Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) and Democrat Raphael Warnock are set to face off in a Jan. 5 runoff election after Rep. Doug Collins (R) conceded in Georgia’s special Senate election and the Associated Press projected they would receive the most votes.
Under the state’s rules, the contest goes to a runoff if no candidate wins a majority of the votes.
Loeffler has been in the Senate seat since December 2019, when Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed her after Republican Johnny Isakson retired. But the vacancy triggered a special election so that both of Georgia’s Senate seats were on the ballot this year.
The race was an open election, meaning that there were no primaries. Loeffler, Warnock and Collins consistently led the 20-person field, and a central question was whether any one candidate would be able to win a majority of votes to avoid triggering a runoff election.
Warnock didn’t address the results when he spoke Tuesday evening, but he praised “everyday people, ordinary people” who were “rising up and demanding change.”
“They’ve had about enough of Washington politicians who move so seamlessly between Washington backrooms and corporate boardrooms that it’s hard to tell one from the other,” he said. “Well, I think the ultra-wealthy and well-connected already have enough representatives in Washington.”
“If you need somebody who will defend health care and not defund health care; if you need somebody who knows that it’s wrong to call people essential workers and not pay them an essential wage, not offer them essential benefits; if you need somebody who, in honor of John Lewis, will pass voting rights in the Senate so that every voice is heard; if you need a voice crying out in the wilderness of Washington, ‘here am I,’ send me,” he added.
Shortly after, Collins conceded to Loeffler.
The campaign was contentious, especially between the two Republicans. Loeffler, 49, and Collins, 54, worked to prove who was the most conservative. President Donald Trump and his allies had unsuccessfully lobbied Kemp to choose Collins to fill the seat. Trump did not endorse in the special election.
Loeffler nevertheless worked to prove she was close to Trump, recently saying she was “the only U.S. senator that has voted 100%” with the president and that there wasn’t a single issue where they disagreed. She also insisted that Trump took the coronavirus pandemic “seriously from day one.”
Her most noticed ad declared she was “more conservative than Attila the Hun,” demonstrating her attempt to the appeal to the far-right. She also touted the endorsement of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a GOP congressional candidate in Georgia who has embraced the QAnon conspiracy movement. Greene has suggested that former President Barack Obama is Muslim, questioned whether a plane actually crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11 and posted racist and xenophobic videos on social media.
In April, Loeffler came under significant criticism for trading millions of dollars in stocks after receiving a closed-door Senate briefing on the coronavirus in January ― before many Americans realized the severity of the virus.
Loeffler, a former Wall Street executive, is the richest member of Congress, and her husband is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. While she said at the time that she did nothing wrong with the trades, she announced that she and her husband would liquidate their individual stock shares to move on from the “distraction.”
Warnock, 51, is the senior pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the famous Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. If elected, he would be the first Black senator from Georgia.
Warnock had the full backing of the Democratic Party’s heavy hitters, including presidential candidate Joe Biden, Obama, former President Jimmy Carter, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Matt Lieberman, the son of former Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman, was also in the race. Although he never came close to Warnock’s support, he faced heavy pressure to drop out so that he wouldn’t pull votes away.
Warnock, a graduate of Morehouse College, became senior pastor at Ebenezer in 2005, when he was 35. In 2013, he delivered the closing prayer at Obama’s Inaugural Prayer Service, and in 2016, he gave the sermon at the annual White House Easter Prayer Breakfast.
Warnock emphasized his life rising out of poverty. In one ad, he walked through the housing project in Savannah where he grew up with 11 brothers and sisters, stating that children there now “have it harder now than I did back then. That’s got to change.”
In another, Warnock talked about how as a 12-year-old in 1982, he was accused of stealing and dragged out of a store. He was told he looked suspicious because his hands were in his pockets.
Both sides will get increased attention in the special election. Warnock will likely attract more national attention since he won’t be competing for visibility ― and funding ― with all the other Senate candidates out there, and Loeffler will be able to consolidate Republican support.