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Georgia election: Democrats on course for Senate control

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Publishedduration9 minutes agomedia captionIf confirmed, Mr Warnock will be the first black senator for the state of GeorgiaThe Democratic Party of US President-elect Joe Biden is on the verge of taking control of the Senate as results come in from two elections in Georgia.Pastor Raphael Warnock is projected to win one seat. Fellow Democrat Jon…

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media captionIf confirmed, Mr Warnock will be the first black senator for the state of Georgia

The Democratic Party of US President-elect Joe Biden is on the verge of taking control of the Senate as results come in from two elections in Georgia.

Pastor Raphael Warnock is projected to win one seat. Fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff leads narrowly in the other.

If they both win, Mr Biden will have a much better chance of pushing through his legislative agenda.

It comes as US lawmakers prepare to confirm Mr Biden’s presidential election victory.

A joint session of Congress is being held to count and confirm electoral college votes, but some Republicans are seeking to overturn the results in a number of states.

The bid is almost certain to fail. However, both houses of Congress may have to spend hours debating their objections.

And supporters of President Donald Trump are holding a “Save America Rally” in Washington DC.

Mr Trump told the crowds he would “never concede” the 3 November election. He has repeatedly alleged electoral fraud without providing evidence.

He blasted Republicans who plan to vote to certify Mr Biden’s victory as “weak”.

Why is there an election in Georgia?

The election is being rerun because of Georgia’s rule that a candidate must take 50% of the vote in order to win.

None of the candidates in November’s general election met that threshold.

With 98% of votes counted, US TV networks and the Associated Press news agency called the first of the two races for Mr Warnock.

image copyrightReuters

image captionMr Warnock’s and Mr Ossoff’s positions have been boosted by Joe Biden’s presidential election win in Georgia

Control of the Senate in the first two years of Mr Biden’s term will be determined by the outcome of the second run-off.

Mr Warnock is set to become the first black senator for the state of Georgia – a slavery state in the US Civil War – and only the 11th black senator in US history.

He serves as the reverend of the Atlanta church where assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr grew up and preached.

Claiming victory, he paid tribute to his mother, Verlene, who as a teenager worked as a farm labourer.

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“The other day – because this is America – the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” he said.

If both Democrats win, the Senate will be evenly split 50-50, allowing incoming Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. The Democrats narrowly control the House of Representatives.

Mr Ossoff has also claimed victory in his race against Republican Senator David Perdue, but that race is even tighter. At 33, he would be the Senate’s youngest member for 40 years.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in Georgia in 20 years but the party has been boosted by Mr Biden’s presidential election win over Mr Trump there. Mr Biden’s margin of victory was about 12,000 votes among five million cast.

What is happening in Washington?

On Wednesday, more political drama is unfolding in Washington DC as lawmakers hold a special joint session to ratify the results of November’s presidential election. 

The typically procedural affair – which will affirm Mr Biden’s victory – has become unusually contentious, with about a dozen Republican senators vowing to challenge the results in a number of states won by Mr Biden.

The group, led by Senator Ted Cruz, wants a 10-day delay to audit unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. The move is all but certain to fail as most senators are expected to endorse the results that have already been certified by US states. 

The first objection, over the result in the state of Arizona, came within minutes of the session convening. Members of Congress will now debate the objection.

media captionSenator Ted Cruz on Donald Trump: Then and now

Vice-President Mike Pence is presiding over the session in his role as president of the Senate. 

He has come under pressure to reject the certification this week from Mr Trump, who said he would be “very disappointed in him” if he failed to do so.

In a statement, Mr Pence said he would allow any concerns about the conduct of the elections a fair hearing.

But he said the belief that the vice-president was able to accept or reject electoral votes unilaterally was “incorrect”.

Mr Biden is due to be inaugurated as president on 20 January. He won 306 votes to Mr Trump’s 232 in the US electoral college, which confirms the president.

Mr Biden won at least seven million more votes than the president.

When will we get a result in Georgia?

Final results are expected later on Wednesday.

The margins are extremely tight. Mr Warnock is projected to have won his race by 50.6% to 49.4% over incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler.

Edison Research, which supplies election results to news organisations including the BBC, says Mr Ossoff is leading by 50.2%, to 49.8% over Mr Perdue.

More than 98% of ballots from Georgia’s 159 counties have now been counted. The remaining votes come from the Atlanta suburbs, which are projected to go heavily for the Democrats.

More than three million voters – about 40% of those registered in Georgia – voted before Tuesday. Early voting benefited Mr Biden in November’s White House election.

image copyrightReuters

image captionSenators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are the candidates for the Republican Party

Trump will face blame if Republicans lose

Although the results are not final, it appears Republican worries about the two run-off elections in Georgia were well-founded. Their voters did not show up in the kinds of numbers they were hoping. Democrats turned out at higher levels. In county after county, both Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock outperformed their general election numbers.

The two Democrats, at times running as a team, appeared to complement each other’s electoral coalitions. Mr Warnock energised black voters across the state. Mr Ossoff, although he slightly underperformed his Democratic counterpart, still attracted suburban and educated voters around Atlanta.

If it turns out both prevail, Donald Trump will receive considerable blame for the Republican defeats. The party that loses the White House usually does better in subsequent congressional elections, not worse. And Georgia, despite Joe Biden’s victory there, is still a traditionally conservative state.

But Mr Trump spent most of his time and energy disputing his electoral defeat and lobbing attacks at Republican leaders in the state.

It turns out that may not have been a wise electoral strategy – and it could cost Republicans control of the Senate.

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