In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, the outcome of Georgia’s two U.S. Senate runoffs — and thus, control of the Senate — was tilting toward the Democrats making history by electing what is believed the state’s first African American and Jewish senators.
At 2 a.m., with 98 percent of the statewide vote reported, numerous news organizations projected that Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock would defeat interim Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler. As of 2:15 a.m., Warnock was leading Loeffler by more than 47,000 votes, a difference of 1 percent. The winner will serve the two years remaining in the term of former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired last year, and face re-election in 2022.
At the same time, Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, who is Jewish, led incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue by more than 9,000 votes, a margin of 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent. The winner will serve a full six-year term.
Loeffler did not concede when she addressed a Republican gathering about 12:20 a.m., saying, “It’s going to be another late night. There are a lot of votes out there, as you all know. We have a path to victory, and we are going to stay on it.”
Warnock, who would be what is believed the state’s first African American senator, spoke online soon thereafter, saying, “I’m going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia.”
A statement issued by Ossoff’s campaign at 1:25 a.m. said: “When all the votes are counted we fully expect that Jon Ossoff will have won this election to represent Georgia in the United States Senate.”
An hour later, a statement issued by the Perdue campaign said: “We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted. We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.”
Under Georgia law, a candidate losing by less than or equal to 0.5 percent may request a recount, once the state has certified the election results.
Wins by both Ossoff and Warnock would deadlock the Senate at 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats (including two independents in their caucus). Vice president-elect Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote, which could be the difference in Cabinet and judicial nominations by President-elect Joe Biden.
As of 1:45 a.m., media reports were that about 10,000 votes from Democratic stronghold DeKalb County had yet to be reported. An estimated 7,000 votes remained in Coffee County, along with 4,700 in Gwinnett County, 4,000 in heavily Fulton County (which planned to resume counting Wednesday morning), about 3,000 in Chatham County (Savannah), and an unknown number in several smaller counties.
Also outstanding were votes by Georgians living overseas and Georgia-based U.S. military personnel deployed overseas, estimated by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to number around 17,000. To be counted, those ballots must be postmarked by Jan. 5 and received by Friday, Jan. 8.
Gabriel Sterling, the Sandy Springs Republican who manages elections for the Secretary of State’s office, told CNN that Wednesday might be too optimistic an outlook for unofficial statewide results.