In what are likely the most consequential Senate races of the current century, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock appear to have toppled incumbent Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively, in Georgia's runoff elections. If Warnock and Ossoff's victories hold, they'll end Mitch McConnell's reign over the upper chamber of Congress.
When the sun rose Wednesday, Warnock, a first-time candidate and the minister at Atlanta's famed Ebenezer Baptist Church, had defeated Loeffler by approximately 50,000 votes, according to the Associated Press. Warnock's margin puts him outside the 0.5% margin Loeffler would need to request a recount according to Georgia state law.
The race between Ossoff and Perdue, however, remains much tighter, with multiple news outlets characterizing it as "too close to call" on Wednesday morning. Still, the momentum is undeniably in Ossoff's favor, as he leads Perdue by over 16,000 votes — still too slim a lead to stave off a recount, but enough to prompt Ossoff to declare victory on Wednesday morning in a short video posted to his Twitter account.
"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 his victory message. "And they will be my guiding principles as I serve this state in the U.S. Senate."
Perdue, however, has not conceded his loss. "We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are counted," his campaign said in a brief statement early Wednesday. "We believe in the end, Sen. Perdue will be victorious."
If, however, Ossoff's lead holds — and there's currently no reason to expect that it won't — the Senate would then be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, then, would serve as the crucial tie-breaking vote, delivering the Democrats a razor-thin, but absolutely crucial majority.
The Democrats' presumptive victories in Georgia mark a sea change in the state's electoral politics, where it's been 25 years since a Democrat was elected to the Senate. Both races were characterized by a GOP effort to smear their opponents with racial and ethnic attacks: Loeffler's campaign ran a digital ad that darkened Warnock's skin, while Perdue's team was forced to remove an ad that elongated Ossoff's nose, which many saw as playing into a classic anti-Semitic trope. And as the campaigns drew closer to Tuesday's runoff, each Republican candidate moved further and further toward GOP's fringe, joining President Trump's baseless electoral conspiracy theories and embracing the party's newly elected anti-Semitic QAnon conspiracy theorist, Marjorie Taylor Greene. During Trump's final rally in Georgia on Monday, Loeffler took the stage to triumphantly declare that she would oppose the certification of President-elect Biden's Electoral College win — Trump's latest unjustified attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election he lost.
In the end, if Perdue does ultimately lose his seat, the Democrats' sweep will likely be the result a massive voter registration effort on the ground spearheaded by, among others, rising Democratic superstar Stacey Abrams and LaTosha Brown, as well as a confluence of catastrophic blunders by the GOP. After months of Trump claiming falsely that the electoral process in the state has been fundamentally tainted, and its inevitable outcome "rigged" from the start, it's easy to see how GOP turnout may have stagnated, while Democratic voters — many of whom cast their ballots by mail — turned out in record numbers.
Ultimately, Georgia's races may be remembered as much for the candidates themselves as for the fact that these victories, if they hold, will give Biden the legislative means to enact his presidential agenda. Cabinet positions, judicial nominees, and various priorities — from $2,000 direct COVID-19 stimulus payments to student loan forgiveness — are suddenly a very real possibility. Under a GOP-led Senate, with an obstinate McConnell at the helm, they were likely DOA.
That alone is reason to be marginally optimistic about the coming few years in the United States. The question now becomes: What will the Democrats do with this opportunity?