ATLANTA: Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock has been projected to win his Tuesday (Jan 5) runoff election, giving Democrats a chance to seize control of the United States Senate for the opening of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidency.
Warnock, who serves as a pastor for the same Atlanta church where slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr grew up and preached, is the first black US senator elected in Georgia, according to projections by networks AP, CBS, CNN and NBC.
The contest between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican David Perdue, which Democrats also need to win to claim the Senate majority, remains too early to call.
Warnock defeated Republican incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler, a former businesswoman who was appointed to the Senate less than a year ago and had the strong support of outgoing President Donald Trump.
The Republican president on the eve of the election called on Georgia Republicans to swarm to the polls for the Republican Senate candidates, even as he warned without evidence of the prospect of widespread voter fraud.
Biden held his own rally on Monday to urge his coalition to turn out for the Democratic candidates.
Earlier, Warnock had given what amounted to a victory speech, saying he was honoured by the faith that voters had shown in him and promising to work for all Georgians.
Appearing on video after midnight, he expressed optimism, saying he had “proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible”.
Warnock’s opponent Loeffler acknowledged earlier on Wednesday that “we’ve got some work to do here" in the race, but said that she still had “a path to victory”.
The Warnock-Loeffler contest and the second Senate runoff between Perdue and Ossoff will determine control of the United States Senate and the fate of President-elect Joe Biden's legislative agenda.
A double Democratic win would create a 50-50 split in the Senate and give Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote after she and Biden take office on Jan 20. The party already has a narrow majority in the House of Representatives.
If Republicans hold even one of the two seats, they would effectively wield veto power over Biden's political and judicial appointees as well as many of his legislative initiatives in areas such as economic relief, climate change, healthcare and criminal justice.
Warnock spoke in front of a bookshelf with a sign that said “Thank you Georgia” and in his speech shared parts of his biography, including his childhood in public housing. He said: “May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold of the American dream.”