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US Democrats gain control of Senate with two runoff wins in Georgia

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By Lauren Chadwick
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Democrats Jon Ossoff, left, and Raphael Warnock, right, won seats in the Senate in Georgia.
Democrats Jon Ossoff, left, and Raphael Warnock, right, won seats in the Senate in Georgia.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Democrats won both Senate seats in the state of Georgia, handing them control of the upper chamber of Congress in a major win for the incoming Biden administration.

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock defeated Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the Associated Press projected, two months after Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1992.

Warnock is the senior pastor at civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King Jr's former church in Atlanta. He grew up in public housing in Savannah and will become the southern state's first Black senator.

Ossoff becomes the state's first Jewish senator and, at 33 years old, the Senate's youngest member.

President-elect Biden and the left-leaning Democratic Party had to win both runoff elections in order to flip the upper chamber of Congress, which is responsible for lawmaking and a host of other duties.

Losing one of the two runoff elections would have blocked Biden's legislative priorities, as well as his nominees for his incoming Cabinet, who have to be confirmed by the Senate before taking office.

The elections put the southern state of Georgia in the spotlight again after it became a key battleground in 2020.

Who ran in the election?

Incumbent Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler both faced Democratic challengers.

Former businessman Perdue, 71, had been in the Senate since 2015 and 50-year-old Loeffler since 2019.

They faced Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old former documentary film producer, and 51-year-old Warnock, the senior pastor at civil rights activist Reverend Martin Luther King Jr's former church in Atlanta.

AP Photo
Georgia Senate election candidates Jon Ossoff, top left, David Perdue, top right, Kelly Loeffler, bottom left, and Raphael Warnock, bottom right.AP Photo

The runoffs are being held because none of the candidates received 50% of the vote in November, and pit Ossoff against Perdue and Warnock against Loeffler.

Why is Georgia being watched so closely?

Republicans hold 50 seats in the Senate and just needed to win one more seat to hold their majority whereas Democrats held 46 seats plus two independents that vote with them.

Winning both elections for Democrats would bring the balance in the Senate to 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to break a tie in the Senate to pass laws.

Democrats also control the lower chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives.

But if Republicans win, Senator Mitch McConnell will remain majority leader, an outcome Democrats are hoping to avoid. He blocked court nominees and legislation during the administration of Barack Obama.

Republicans have had a majority in the Senate since 2014.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have flooded into Georgia ahead of the runoff elections, with Democrats out raising the Republicans by millions.

Both Democratic candidates have broken records for fundraising, bringing in more than $100 million (€81.4 million) each.

Polling showed both elections neck and neck ahead of the vote.

Why has Georgia become such an important battleground state?

Georgia had consistently voted Republican but this year, it became a key battleground state that Biden eventually won by nearly 12,000 votes.

Many have said former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams contributed to the flipping the state in the Democrats' favour, registering new voters through her organisation "Fair Fight".

Since the 2018 election, in which Abrams lost to Governor Brian Kemp, more than 800,000 new voters have been added to Georgia’s electorate, the organisation says. At least 49% of those voters are people of colour and 45% are under 30 years old.

The close race in Georgia recently came back into the spotlight when audio emerged from a phone call between President Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger from over the weekend in which the US president asked him to "find" votes to make up the difference.

Democrats said Trump's actions were criminal and an abuse of power as he continued to claim there was voter fraud in the election.

Both he and President-elect Biden have been campaigning in the state ahead of the runoffs, and Trump continued to claim he won the presidential election in Georgia.

Trump also said the stakes of the election could not be higher while Biden said on Monday that it was the first time that one state could "chart the course" for the "next generation".

Additional sources • AP