Raphael Warnock defeats Kelly Loeffler to become senator, ABC projects

ATLANTA — In a contentious and heated campaign, Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock beat out Sen. Kelly Loeffler to become one of Georgia’s two U.S. senators.

Warnock is the senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta — the church once helmed by Martin Luther King Jr.

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His opponent, Loeffler, was appointed to the seat by Gov. Brian Kemp when it was vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson last year, who resigned because of health reasons.

Warnock will now serve out the rest of Isakson’s term, meaning he will have to run for reelection again in three years.

The pastor is also the first Black person to become a U.S. senator from the state of Georgia.

[Live Updates: Warnock projected winner, Ossoff/Perdue too close to call]

“I come before you tonight as a man that knows that the improbable journey that led me to this place and this historic moment in America that can only happen here,” Warnock said in video statement earlier in the evening. “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 he is ready to fight for all Georgians, not just the ones who voted for him.

“Georgia, I am honored by the faith that you have shown in me, and I promise you this tonight, I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia,” Warnock said.

Warnock’s win leaves just one seat open for Democrats to take control of the Senate. There is less than 1% of the separating Jon Ossoff and David Perdue in Georgia’s other Senate runoff race.

[EXPLAINER: Georgia’s role in balance of power for U.S. Senate]

The unusual importance for the runoffs has transformed Georgia, once a solidly Republican state, into one of the nation’s premier battlegrounds during the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia with more than 12,000 votes in November.

Even before Tuesday, Georgia shattered its turnout record for a runoff with more than 3 million votes by mail or during in-person advance voting in December. The state’s previous record was 2.1 million in a 2008 Senate runoff.

The early turnout was expected to benefit Democrats, as it helped Biden in November become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992. Republicans were counting on a big turnout on Tuesday to make up for the Democrats’ perceived early vote advantage.

This week’s elections mark the formal finale to the turbulent 2020 election season more than two months after the rest of the nation finished voting.