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Atlanta, Jan. 6: Campaign ads for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are seen on a wall near the John Lewis mural the day after the U.S. Senate runoff elections.

Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters


Georgia runoffs: The basics

  • Democrat Jon Ossoff has defeated Republican David Perdue, with their race for a Georgia Senate seat being too closed to call at the start of Wednesday. With Mr. Ossoff’s win, the parties are tied in the Senate, but a vice-presidential tiebreaker gives the Democrats effective control.
  • Raphael Warnock – now Georgia’s first Black senator – won the other Georgia seat from Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler. “Georgia’s voters delivered a resounding message yesterday: they want action on the crises we face and they want it right now,” Mr. Biden said in a message of congratulations Wednesday.

Why did Georgia vote again, and why is it so important?

A sign in Atlanta urges residents to vote in the runoff election.

Brian Snyder/Reuters

What happened in November?

Nov. 3′s presidential election was a decisive win for Democrat Joe Biden (notwithstanding Donald Trump’s repeated and false claims of widespread fraud), but the Senate race was razor-thin, both nationally in terms of seats and in Georgia in terms of votes. No Georgia candidate got more than 50 per cent of the vote, and Georgia is one of the few U.S. states where a runoff between the top two finishers is required if that happens.

In their contest for a regular six-year Senate term, Republican David Perdue edged Democrat Jon Ossoff by less than two percentage points but finished with 49.73 per cent of the vote – just shy of a majority. Mr. Ossoff came ahead to 50.4 per cent in the runoff.

Democrat Raphael Warnock, meanwhile, placed first in the November race, with 32.9 per cent of the vote, ahead of Republican Kelly Loeffler at 25.9 per cent. The pair were vying to finish the last two years of Johnny Isakson’s term; Mr. Isakson resigned in 2019, and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp appointed Ms. Loeffler to his seat until a special election could be held. Rather than hold primaries to choose the Democratic and Republican candidates, the state allowed multiple candidates from each party to run. Besides Mr. Warnock and Ms. Loeffler, another strong Republican candidate, Doug Collins, ran for the seat, as did several minor Democratic contenders. The Warnock-Loeffler rematch was also close, but Mr. Warnock’s lead was large enough to miss the 0.5-per-cent trigger when recounts can be demanded.

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Why did the runoff matter so much?

Out of 100 Senate seats, Republicans and Democrats held 50 and 48 seats, respectively, after the general election. Mr. Warnock and Mr. Ossoff’s victories got the Democrats up to a tie. As vice-president, Kamala Harris is the tiebreaker. That would give Mr. Biden a freer hand to reverse Mr. Trump’s policies quickly on everything from COVID-19 and climate change to immigration and foreign policy.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP/The Associated Press

Is this related to Trump’s ‘find the votes’ call?

Yes and no. The call you’re thinking of was between Mr. Trump and Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, in which the outgoing President threatened him and pleaded with him to “find 11,800 votes” in the presidential tally. (Mr. Biden won Georgia by 11,789 votes, according to the state’s certified results.)

Georgia’s Senate runoffs were also discussed on the hour-long call, an audio recording of which was published by The Washington Post, but the more pressing issue for state and national politicians is whether Mr. Trump’s efforts to change the presidential outcome was an illegal abuse of power. Mr. Raffensperger, for his part, said the call was “inappropriate” and that the White House browbeat him into taking it in the first place.

Georgians at a glance

The Peach State has been more or less reliably Republican for two decades. It hasn’t had a Democratic senator or governor since the mid-2000s, and until last year the most recent time it voted for a Democratic president was 1992, when it helped elect Bill Clinton.

But urban Georgia has been growing quickly thanks to Black and Hispanic migration from the rest of the United States and immigration from South and East Asia, which have enlarged the constituencies most likely to vote Democratic.

GEORGIA’S SHIFTING DEMOGRAPHICS

GEORGIA 30 YEARS AGO AND

2020 ELECTION RESULTS

1990: Percentage who were white

20

30

50

70

90%

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

2020 election results

Republicans

Democrats

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

Some of the counties that went to Joe Biden were 70 to 90 per cent white in 1990

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

GEORGIA TODAY

Percentage who are Black

2019 estimates

20

30

40

50%

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

Percentage who are Hispanic

2019 estimates

10

20

30%

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

Percentage who are foreign-born

2019, 5-year estimates

5

10

15

20%

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

murat yükselir / the globe and mail,

source: ap; u.s. census bureau

GEORGIA’S SHIFTING DEMOGRAPHICS

GEORGIA 30 YEARS AGO AND 2020 ELECTION RESULTS

1990: Percentage who were white

20

30

50

70

90%

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

2020 election results

Republicans

Democrats

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

Some of the counties that went to Joe Biden were 70 to 90 per cent white in 1990

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

GEORGIA TODAY

Percentage who are Black

2019 estimates

20

30

40

50%

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

Percentage who are Hispanic

2019 estimates

10

20

30%

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

Percentage who are foreign-born

2019, 5-year estimates

5

10

15

20%

Atlanta

Augusta

Columbus

Savannah

murat yükselir / the globe and mail,

source: ap; u.s. census bureau

GEORGIA’S SHIFTING DEMOGRAPHICS

GEORGIA 30 YEARS AGO AND 2020 ELECTION RESULTS

1990: Percentage who were white

2020 election results

Republicans

Democrats

20

30

50

70

90%

Atlanta

Atlanta

Augusta

Augusta

Savannah

Savannah

Columbus

Columbus

Some of the counties that went to Joe Biden were 70 to 90 per cent white in 1990

Atlanta

Augusta

Savannah

Columbus

GEORGIA TODAY

Percentage who are Hispanic

2019 estimates

Percentage who are Black

2019 estimates

10

20

30%

20

30

40

50%

Atlanta

Atlanta

Augusta

Augusta

Savannah

Savannah

Columbus

Columbus

Percentage who are foreign-born

2019, 5-year estimates

5

10

15

20%

Atlanta

Augusta

Savannah

Columbus

murat yükselir / the globe and mail, source: ap; u.s. census bureau

GEORGIA’S SHIFTING DEMOGRAPHICS

GEORGIA 30 YEARS AGO AND 2020 ELECTION RESULTS

1990: Percentage who were white

2020 election results

Some of the counties that went to Joe Biden were 70 to 90 per cent white in 1990

Republicans

Democrats

20

30

50

70

90%

Atlanta

Atlanta

Atlanta

Augusta

Augusta

Augusta

Savannah

Savannah

Savannah

Columbus

Columbus

Columbus

GEORGIA TODAY

Percentage who are Black

2019 estimates

Percentage who are Hispanic

2019 estimates

Percentage who are foreign-born

2019, 5-year estimates

20

30

40

50%

5

10

15

20%

10

20

30%

Atlanta

Atlanta

Atlanta

Augusta

Augusta

Augusta

Savannah

Savannah

Savannah

Columbus

Columbus

Columbus

murat yükselir / the globe and mail, source: ap; u.s. census bureau

GEORGIA’S SHIFTING DEMOGRAPHICS

GEORGIA 30 YEARS AGO AND 2020 ELECTION RESULTS

Some of the counties that went to Joe Biden were 70 to 90 per cent white in 1990

1990: Percentage who were white

2020 election results

Republicans

Democrats

20

30

50

70

90%

Atlanta

Atlanta

Atlanta

Augusta

Augusta

Augusta

Columbus

Columbus

Columbus

Savannah

Savannah

Savannah

GEORGIA TODAY

Percentage who are Black

2019 estimates

Percentage who are foreign-born

2019, 5-year estimates

Percentage who are Hispanic

2019 estimates

20

30

40

50%

5

10

15

20%

10

20

30%

Atlanta

Atlanta

Atlanta

Augusta

Augusta

Augusta

Columbus

Columbus

Columbus

Savannah

Savannah

Savannah

murat yükselir / the globe and mail, source: ap; u.s. census bureau

Who were the candidates in Georgia’s runoff election?

Candidates who won

Raphael Warnock makes an address in Georgia on election night.

REVEREND RAPHAEL WARNOCK via REUTERS

Raphael Warnock

He is one of 11 children who grew up in public housing in Savannah, where both of his parents were ministers. Mr. Warnock became the first in his family to go to university, before following his father and mother into the clergy. As the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church – Martin Luther King Jr.’s former pulpit – since 2005, Mr. Warnock has used his platform to advocate for a range of social justice causes, including an expansion of health insurance. He has twice been arrested during sit-ins at the state legislature and the U.S. Capitol. Republicans have focused most of their attack ads on him, accusing the 51-year-old of harbouring Marxist sympathies.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff speaks after the runoff election.

Jon Ossoff for Senate/Handout via REUTERS

Jon Ossoff

An Atlanta native and London School of Economics graduate, Mr. Ossoff runs Insight TWI, a company that produces documentaries on international political corruption. He has made this theme central to his campaign: In one much-circulated debate clip, he accused Mr. Perdue of being “a crook” to his face for making advantageous stock trades during the pandemic. A fresh-faced 33-year-old, Mr. Ossoff alternately reads as disciplined and on-message or overly polished. The primary criticism of him is that he has relatively little life experience for the office he seeks. His only previous foray into politics, for instance, was a losing bid for a congressional seat in 2017.

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Candidates who lost

Kelly Loeffler speaks at an election-night watch party.

John Bazemore/The Associated Press

Kelly Loeffler

A 50-year-old former financial services executive and co-owner of the Atlanta Dream WNBA team, Ms. Loeffler has positioned herself as one of the Senate’s most right-wing members. She has the chamber’s most solidly pro-Trump voting record and pushed for crackdowns on unauthorized immigrants and transgender people in women’s sports. Earlier this year, she blasted the WNBA’s support for Black Lives Matter, accusing the anti-racism movement of causing “violence and destruction.” Ms. Loeffler has faced criticism for dumping stocks early this year after senators received a private briefing on the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as she downplayed the seriousness of the virus publicly. She has insisted that the stock trades were made by her broker without her knowledge.

David Perdue and Vice-President Mike Pence, left, leave a December rally in Augusta, Ga.

John Bazemore/The Canadian Press

David Perdue

A one-term incumbent Senator, Mr. Perdue sells himself as a political “outsider,” having spent his previous life in the private sector. In corporate America, however, the 71-year-old was the consummate insider, working as CEO of Dollar General and PillowTex and as a top executive at Reebok. The Democrats have tried to paint him as a wealthy plutocrat, repeatedly reminding voters that he lives on Sea Island, a tony private enclave off the Georgia coast. He also drew fire for mocking the first name of vice-president-elect Kamala Harris, the first Asian-American and Black person elected to the office. “Ka-mala or Ka-mala or Kamala-mala-mala. I don’t know,” he said at a rally. “Whatever.”

More reading

David Shribman: As time runs out for Trump, the volatility becomes more intense

Lawrence Martin: Biden’s agenda hinges on a showdown in Georgia

Nina Khrushcheva: Ivanka for president? Now that’s worrying


Compiled by Adrian Morrow and Evan Annett, with reports The Associated Press


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