Control of the U.S. Senate hung in the balance Wednesday with the result of one of two runoff elections in the southern state of Georgia still too close to call.
Democrats moved closer to regaining control of the chamber with the Rev. Raphael Warnock’s projected defeat of Sen. Kelly Loeffler in one of Tuesday’s elections.
U.S. media organizations called the race with Warnock leading Loeffler by more than 40,000 votes and nearly all ballots counted.
“We were told that we couldn’t win this election, but tonight we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible,” Warnock said in a message to his supporters late Tuesday.
In the second election, Democrat Jon Ossoff, a television documentary producer, led by fewer than 4,000 votes over Republican David Perdue, who was seeking a second six-year term in office.
Going into Tuesday’s voting, Republicans controlled the 100-seat Senate with a 50-48 advantage, needing to win one of the Georgia contests to keep their majority and act as a bulwark against Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative proposals after he is inaugurated January 20.
With Warnock’s victory, an Ossoff win would give Democrats a 50-50 split with Republicans and a chance for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who will be able to preside over Senate proceedings when she chooses, to cast tie-breaking votes in the Democrats’ favor.
Democrats already narrowly control the House of Representatives. With Democratic control of both houses of Congress, Biden would likely offer more sweeping proposals to bolster health care in the United States, tighten environmental controls that were eased during the four-year tenure of President Donald Trump and try to make it easier for immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship.
Conversely, Republican control of the Senate would make Biden’s political life more difficult and likely force protracted negotiations between his administration and Republican lawmakers on contentious issues.
The controlling party in the chamber also sets the legislative calendar, determining which issues are voted on while also holding a majority on each of the Senate’s issue-specific committees where potential laws are first considered.
The Perdue-Ossoff and Loeffler-Warnock contests were made necessary because none of the four candidates won a majority in the first round of voting in November.
Voter turnout was robust on Tuesday, with long lines of voters snaking into polling places, and came after nearly 3.1 million people cast ballots before the official Election Day. Five million votes were cast in Georgia in the November balloting that included Biden’s race against Trump.
The overall vote count in U.S. runoff elections usually lags general elections, but about 100,000 people who did not vote in November in Georgia cast ballots in the Senate runoffs even before the official Election Day.
In the November vote, Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win in Georgia since 1992.
Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that he was defrauded out of winning the state, pleading in an extraordinary phone call last weekend with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find him 11,780 more votes – enough to upend the Biden win by a single vote. But Raffensperger, a Republican, rebuffed Trump, saying he was “just plain wrong” in contending he was cheated out of a victory in the state.
Loeffler said she would support Trump’s challenge to Biden’s victory in Georgia when a joint session of Congress meets Wednesday to certify Biden’s 306-232 victory in the Electoral College, which determines the outcome of U.S. presidential elections rather than the national popular vote.
Election Day exit polls conducted by Edison Research indicated about seven in 10 Georgia voters were confident that the votes in Tuesday’s runoff elections would be counted accurately. Democrats were far more confident than Republicans.
Both Biden and Trump held rallies Monday in Georgia in a final attempt to persuade voters.
“The power is literally in your hands,” Biden said. “Unlike any time in my career, one state, one state, can chart the course, not just for the next four years, but for the next generation."
He said Georgians had voted in record numbers in the presidential election in November. “Now, we need you to vote again in record numbers,” he said.
Trump campaigned Monday in a heavily Republican enclave in Dalton in the northern part of the state, telling supporters the election could be their “last chance to save the America that we love.”
“The far left wants to destroy our country, demolish our history and erase everything that we hold dear,” Trump said. “This could be the most important vote you will ever cast for the rest of your life."