(CN) — Democrat Raphael Warnock is the projected winner of one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff elections, but the race between Republican David Perdue and opponent Jon Ossoff remained too close to call early Wednesday.
With about 99% of the precincts reporting at 2:20 a.m. Eastern, Warnock has 50.53% of the vote compared to incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler’s 49.47%, according to Decision Desk HQ election results. Perdue leads with 50.11% of the vote while his Democratic challenger Ossoff has 49.89% of the vote.
The races will determine the makeup of the U.S. Senate, resolving the question whether the upper chamber will be friendly to the Biden administration and its plans for $2,000 Covid-19 stimulus checks, for instance, or if it will remain a Republican-dominated institution serving as a check on the incoming president.
As the vote count started Tuesday, the Democratic candidates took an early lead before they were overtaken by the Republican incumbents but Warnock clawed back the lead in his race. Georgia election officials reportedly said they expected the final results would not be known until Wednesday around lunchtime.
Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia election official, told reporters Tuesday night the results have sharpened to razor thin margins and the candidates who are leading the count could swing back and forth throughout the evening.
“It’s going to be a long night for all of the campaigns here,” Sterling said.
In remarks early Wednesday morning, Warnock said he was “going to the Senate.”
“We were told that we couldn’t win this election, but tonight we prove that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible,” Warnock said in a livestream.
“I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election in this moment in American history,” Warnock added. “Washington has a choice to make, in fact all of us have a choice to make. Will we continue to divide, distract and dishoner one another, or will we love our neighbors as we love ourselves?”
Taking the stage and bidding her supporters a good morning about 20 minutes after midnight, Loeffler said at the Georgia GOP election night party in Atlanta there were a lot of votes still left to count and she wanted to count every legal one.
“We have a path to victory and we’re staying on it,” Loeffler said.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to Georgia’s vacant senate seat in December 2019. The businesswoman and co-owner of the Atlanta WNBA team Atlanta Dream faced a crowded race during the Nov. 3 special election.
A former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok, Perdue is seeking a second term in the Senate but is facing a challenge from documentary filmmaker Ossoff.
Both Senate races advanced to a runoff when none of the candidates received more than half the votes needed to win their races outright, as required by Georgia law.
Warnock, pastor of the Atlanta church once headed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., emerged from the field of candidates as Loeffler’s challenger.
Over the past few days, Loeffler and Perdue said they would support the president’s attempt to overturn the result of the presidential election. While Loeffler announced Monday she would object to Wednesday’s certification of the electoral college, Perdue’s term has already ended and he will rejoin Congress if he wins the runoff.
Heading into election night, the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office said the election process was largely smooth across the state. The average wait time to cast a ballot was a only a minute, slashed from the average wait time of two minutes during the general election weeks before.
In the early afternoon, one precinct had a wait time longer than 20 minutes, the office said.
The only hiccup occurred in Columbia County where poll workers turned to emergency ballots Tuesday morning to record the choices of voters there. Incorrectly programmed keys and cards prevented poll workers from starting up paper ballot scanners and touchscreen voting machines.
“The correct keys and voter cards were delivered to the relevant precincts with a law enforcement escort. Issues were resolved by 10 a.m.,” the Secretary of State’s Office said in a statement.
President Donald Trump, who has baselessly attacked the integrity of Georgia’s election, seized on the issue in Columbia County. He tweeted at 1:18 p.m. that voting machines had issues “in certain Republican Strongholds for over an hour.”
Top Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling — a Republican himself who has shouldered the task of explaining Georgia’s voting procedures while countering disinformation about it — responded to Trump’s message by saying the issue had been resolved hours earlier.
“The votes of everyone will be protected and counted. Sorry you received old intel Mr. President,” Sterling wrote.
Both Democrats and Republicans touted their get-out-the-vote efforts as a key factor in their narratives as to why they would eventually prevail in the runoff election.
The Georgia Democratic Party cited “robust programing” urging people to the polls over the weekend before election day and the 3 million voters that cast ballots during the state’s early voting period.
Those 3 million voters are about 60% of the nearly 5 million Georgia voters who participated in the presidential election. And those numbers are a metric Democrats have watched closely, as it was a factor to President-elect Joe Biden’s narrow victory weeks before.
“Democrats are poised to flip the Senate blue,” the party said in a press release.
Meanwhile, the Perdue and Loeffler campaigns issued a joint statement Tuesday afternoon saying the election would be decided by the voters heading out to the polls in the waning hours of the day.
“This is going to be a very close election and could come down to the difference of just a few votes in a few precincts across the state,” the incumbents said.
In northwest Georgia — where Trump held a get-out-the-vote rally the night before — the Republican campaigns reported high voter turnout.