Georgia Makes History: Warnock Holds Solid Lead, Ossoff in Striking Distance

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In races to determine no less than the future of the country, Georgia Senate candidates were neck-in-neck from the moment polls closed and through much of the night. 

But as the minutes ticked by and Dekalb County reported in, the two Democrats inched closer to victory. By 9:20 p.m. Tuesday, it looked clear Rev. Raphael Warnock will easily take the win with a more than 30,000 vote lead and Jon Ossoff is at least in striking range, trailing by just more than 1,200. The remaining votes are coming from counties that tend to lean Democrat, which by morning could firm up a win for both groundbreaking candidates. However, it’s likely the Perdue-Ossoff results will default to recount based on the narrow margin. 

Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler attempted to hold their incumbent seats against Ossoff and Warnock after no candidate made it past the 50 percent mark in November’s general election. Since then, nearly half a billion dollars have poured into the campaigns, shattering records and drawing stump support from heavy political hitters. Georgia residents have been inundated with advertisements and rallies.

And while it may seem like a nauseating amount of money and attention for state-level politics, the results of this runoff really do determine the future of American politics for at least the next two years. As of Tuesday morning, the Senate balance was 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. A win for Ossoff and Warnock would tie the Senate, but with the introduction of a Democrat presidential administration, the game is changed in substantial ways.

What representation looks like in Georgia could also turn on its head. Warnock, a progressive and outspoken minister at Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once helmed the pulpit, would replace billionaire Trump loyalist Loeffler, who was appointed and not elected to the seat. A win for Warnock makes history as the state’s first Black U.S. senator. Ossoff, a quick-witted and relatable intellect who worked with the late and great Rep. John Lewis, would replace a GOP-loved Perdue who’s taken up the seat since 2015. Ossoff would be the first Jewish senator in the Deep South since Reconstruction. 

Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff campaign in Georgia U.S. Senate runoff races ahead of a Jan. 5, 2021 election. (Photo courtesy of Act Blue)

The Senate has been a point of obstruction since Mitch McConnel (R-KY) took the throne as majority leader in 2015. Certainly, McConnell did plenty of damage in his role as minority leader in the eight years prior, but he truly blossomed as the self-proclaimed “grim reaper” of legislation in the last years under the Obama administration and through Donald Trump’s four-year takeover of the White House.

For context, McConnell admitted in February that he was happily sitting on 395 House bills, simply refusing to bring them up for debate and a vote on the Senate floor and effectively letting them die off in the “legislative graveyard.” That number only grew from that point forward. He infamously declined to bring up the Senate vote in the recent push for a $2,000 direct stimulus payment for struggling Americans. 

But, with a tied Senate, the majority leader role will go to the party of the president. Under a Biden presidency, Democrats would appoint a majority leader and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would shoulder the burden of casting the tie breaking vote if and when it’s needed as the Senate president. Basically, the races in Georgia could shift the nation’s legislative body and allow for bills to finally make it to the floor. It’s nothing less than the difference between success and failure for incoming President Joe Biden and the agenda 81 million voters signed up for.

Giving credit where credit is due, Stacey Abrams is the hero in this story, working tirelessly to flip Georgia blue in the general election and continuing that work to make sure the nation had a reason to incessantly hit refresh in results for Tuesday’s runoffs. 

What happened tonight is the breath Democrats needed. This Senate scenario gives progressives a chance to make substantial changes that impact our daily lives. These Georgia races represent a new Southern Strategy, and a new era in the U.S. 

Georgia just reminded all of us political science nerds of the magic behind the political fray, of why it all matters. Voters stood up, and against all odds, they changed the world. John Lewis is smiling tonight.

This is what “politics” is all about. 

Update, 10:58 p.m.: Warnock is the projected winner by a preliminary margin of 40,575 and Ossoff took the lead with 3,560.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Jon Ossoff’s name and has since been revised for accuracy.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.