ATLANTA — Democrat Raphael Warnock won one of Georgia’s two Senate runoffs Wednesday, becoming the first black senator in his state’s history.
A pastor who spent the past 15 years leading the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, Warnock defeated Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler.
Warnock said Wednesday he hadn’t yet heard from Loeffler but told CBS “This Morning” “I’m hearing from the people of Georgia. People are feeling a sense of hope this morning.”
He noted that he grew up in public housing as one of 12 children and was his family’s first college graduate. “That I am serving in the United States Senate in a few days pushes against the grain of so many expectations but this is America and I want some young person who’s watching this to know anything’s possible.”
“Georgia is in such an incredible place when you think of the arc of our history,” Warnock told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He added: “This is the reversal of the old southern strategy that sought to divide people.”
The focus now shifts to the second race between Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. Early Wednesday, Ossoff claimed victory.
“This campaign has been about health and jobs and justice for the people of this state — for all the people of this state,” Ossoff said in a speech broadcast on social media Wednesday morning. “Whether you were for me, or against me, I’ll be for you in the U.S. Senate. I will serve all the people of the state.”
Under Georgia law, a trailing candidate may request a recount when the margin of an election is less than or equal to 0.5 percentage points.
Warnock’s victory is a symbol of a striking shift in Georgia’s politics as the swelling number of diverse, college-educated voters flex their power in the heart of the Deep South.
Warnock, 51, acknowledged his improbable victory in a message to supporters early Wednesday, citing his family’s experience with poverty. His mother, he said, used to pick “somebody else’s cotton” as a teenager.
“The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” he said. “Tonight, we proved with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.”
Loeffler, who remains a Georgia senator until the results of Tuesday’s election are finalized, said she would return to Washington on Wednesday morning to join a small group of senators planning to challenge Congress’ vote to certify Biden’s victory.
“We are going to keep fighting for you,” Loeffler said, “This is about protecting the American dream.”
Trump’s claims about voter fraud resonated with Republican voters in Georgia. About 7 in 10 agreed with his false assertion that Biden was not the legitimately elected president, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 3,600 voters in the runoff elections.
Election officials across the country, including the Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, as well as Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have confirmed that there was no widespread fraud in the November election. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two tossed by the Supreme Court, where three Trump-nominated justices preside.
Even with Trump’s claims, voters in both parties were drawn to the polls because of the high stakes. AP VoteCast found that 6 in 10 Georgia voters say Senate party control was the most important factor in their vote.
Even before Tuesday, Georgia had shattered its turnout record for a runoff with more than 3 million votes by mail or during in-person advance voting in December. Including Tuesday’s vote, more people ultimately cast ballots in the runoffs than voted in Georgia’s 2016 presidential election.