Democrats on the verge of victory in Georgia

Democrat Raphael Warnock said early Wednesday morning that he is “going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia.” Sen. Kelly Loeffler has not conceded.

Warnock triumphs; If Jon Ossoff hangs on, U.S. Senate will switch hands

[Note: this is a developing story — click here for additional updates.]

Democrat Raphael Warnock has won the special Senate election to replace former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, making him the first person of color to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate.

The Associated Press called the race for Warnock at 2 a.m. Wednesday. At that point, Warnock had already declared victory in brief comments shortly after midnight.

“I am honored by the faith that you have shown to me and I promise this tonight: I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia – no matter who you cast your vote for in this election,” Warnock said.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler has not conceded. She told supporters gathered for a watch party that there were “a lot of votes out there,” The Associated Press reported from the event. “There is a path to victory and we’re staying on it,” she said.

At last report, the votes were still being tallied and military and overseas ballots have until Friday to arrive at local election offices. Warnock currently leads by more than 54,000 votes.

Warnock’s win gives Democrats one of the two seats they need to deny the GOP majority status in the upper chamber. In Georgia’s other Senate race, Democrat Jon Ossoff leads Sen. David Perdue by around 16,000 votes.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate a year ago after Isakson stepped down because of his declining health. Loeffler has closely aligned herself with President Donald Trump, appearing on stage with him at a Dalton rally Monday to share with the Trump faithful that she would object Wednesday to the presidential election results.

Warnock has been senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church since 2005, when, at 35, he became the youngest person to hold that title. The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., father of the civil rights icon, also served as senior pastor, and King Jr. preached there as his father’s co-pastor from 1960 until his assassination in 1968.

The Democrat often speaks of voting in spiritual terms, calling it a “kind of prayer for the kind of world we want to live in.” But his history behind the pulpit also became campaign fodder, with Republicans mining Warnock’s past sermons for clips that were featured prominently – and played frequently – in TV commercials.

The 51-year-old Savannah native grew up in Savannah’s Kayton Homes housing projects, the 11th of 12 children and the first in his family to attend college. He holds degrees from Morehouse College and Union Theological Seminary.

He put his humble upbringing at the center of his campaign, launching his campaign in an ad filmed at Kayton Homes.

“I come before you tonight as a man who knows that the improbably journey that led me to this moment in this historic moment in America could only happen here. We were told 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 early Wednesday morning.

“May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold of the American dream,” he said.

Jill Nolin reports for the Georgia Recorder, which first published this story.

U.S. Senate runoffs: Was Biden win a fluke or has Georgia flipped to blue?

Clockwise from top left: Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Rev. Raphael Warnock, Sen. David Perdue and Jon Ossoff. Photos by Georgia Recorder staff

Democrat Joe Biden flipped Georgia with a slim 13,000 vote lead, buoying the spirit of Democrats who have dubbed the state “Joe’gia” and angering President Donald Trump who continues to pursue legal challenges meant to overturn the results.

But whether Biden’s win here represents anything more than a fluke fueled by Trump-weary voters is one of the big questions left lingering after the now-certified results make Biden the first Democrat presidential candidate to win the state in three decades.

Georgians won’t have to wait long to get some answers: Democrats who came up short this month have another shot to try and rally enough support statewide to oust the state’s two sitting Republican U.S. senators.

Those runoffs, which are set for Jan. 5, have momentarily made Georgia the center of the political universe because of their potential to put the Senate in Democratic hands. Hundreds of millions of dollars will likely pour into these pivotal races as each side races to rally their bases after a hard-fought presidential election and in the midst of the holiday season and a worsening pandemic.

Jon Ossoff, who is an investigative journalist, will have to overcome an 88,000-vote gulf between him and Sen. David Perdue in this month’s three-way matchup with a libertarian candidate who siphoned away about 115,000 votes.

And Raphael Warnock, who is the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, is now in a face-to-face runoff with Sen. Kelly Loeffler after a 20-person contest collectively produced about 48,000 more votes for the field of Republican candidates than the slate of Democrats. Loeffler, a finance executive, was appointed to the seat last year by Gov. Brian Kemp.

All four returned to the campaign trail even as Perdue and Loeffler called on the state’s top election official to resign over unspecified “failures” managing the election and as Trump’s refusal to concede complicates their campaigns. The two Republicans have united their campaigns, calling upon the GOP faithful to help “defend the majority” in the Senate and “save America.”

Ossoff and Warnock have also teamed up at times, casting the pair of runoffs as a referendum on Washington’s response to the pandemic and as a chance to advance policies that would protect and expand access to health care.

Georgia’s political status? It’s complicated

Democrats continue to gain strength in Atlanta’s sprawling and diversifying suburbs, which mirrors a pattern seen in other areas of the country. But that shift isn’t just happening at the top of the ballot.

Cobb and Gwinnett counties – which Hillary Clinton flipped in 2016 – just elected Democrats into local offices like district attorney and county commission chair. One of the few Democratic flips in the state House this year was claimed in Gwinnett; other Republican lawmakers hailing from the northern arc of Atlanta narrowly survived.

Warnock and Ossoff won Cobb and Gwinnett while running up the score in some of the state’s city centers, like Savannah, Augusta, Albany, Athens, Macon and of course, Atlanta. Republicans cleaned up in much of rural Georgia.

The GOP, though, continues to dominate all of Georgia’s statewide offices, although Stacey Abrams famously came up about 55,000 votes short in her 2018 bid that nearly made her the first Black woman elected governor in the country. Read more

Biden gains lead in Georgia as Trump faithful question state’s GOP-run election

Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager, reassured Georgians every legal vote will count in this election. Some supporters of President Donald Trump doubt it. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has pulled slightly ahead of President Donald Trump in Georgia, giving him a slim 1,561-vote edge (at 2 p.m. EST) over the incumbent president in a once reliably red state.

The overnight gain came as a Democratic stronghold south of Atlanta, Clayton County, submitted more election results. Biden has slowly chipped away at Trump’s election night lead as absentee ballots submitted by the Election Day cutoff are processed.

If the trend continues, Georgia will have backed a Democrat for the White House for the first time since 1992 when former President Bill Clinton won here. State election officials are already preparing for a possible recount.

Meanwhile, the slow, painstaking work of processing absentee ballots continues across the state. And pressure has been mounting on Georgia while the country waits to see whether the newly minted battleground state will help settle the close presidential election.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger – who is a Republican – long cautioned that the results could take days, but the delay has still fed suspicions about the process as the president and his supporters have watched a 118,000-vote lead in the early hours of Wednesday morning dwindle in Georgia.

About 60 tea party supporters of the president waved banners in front of State Farm Arena early Thursday afternoon, many of them chanting “stop the steal” as election officials counted Fulton County’s remaining ballots inside.

“The effort here is to make sure that everybody’s legal vote is counted properly and that the actual results are reflective of the voter’s intent,” Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager, said during a Capitol press conference Thursday afternoon.

“There are other states that have more votes to count than we do, but it’s a wide margin so nobody cares,” Sterling said. “These close elections require us to be diligent and make sure we do everything right.”

Local election officials are handling a historic number of paper absentee ballots that require extra handling including a signature match review. About 1.3 million Georgians submitted an absentee ballot, as many people avoided potential exposure to the coronavirus at a polling place.

What is clear, Sterling said, are a few key election deadlines: Voters have until 5 p.m. Friday to correct errors, like a missing signature on an absentee ballot, or to resolve a provisional ballot cast on Tuesday. Overseas military ballots must arrive also by Friday. Local election officials must certify the results by Nov. 13.

The Trump campaign has leaned into the judicial system, but a GOP lawsuit in Chatham County targeting absentee ballots was dismissed Thursday morning. By Thursday night Chatham election officials reported enough absentee ballots counted to close the statewide vote gap to a rounding error.

More lawsuits could be coming in Georgia. Lawyers for the Georgia Republican Party, which filed the Chatham County lawsuit with the Trump campaign, have requested the security footage from the 24-hour security cameras that monitor drop boxes in the state’s six largest counties.

In televised remarks Thursday night, Trump said he “won by a lot” in Georgia. Read more

Revival of endangered bird provides rare bit of good environmental news

The Trump administration has proposed reclassifying the red-cockaded woodpecker as a “threatened” species with specific protections. Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Red-cockaded woodpecker poised to end perch on ‘endangered’ list

A rare bird in in the southeastern U.S. is making enough of a comeback for the Trump administration to propose moving it off the federal endangered species list for the first time in 50 years.

The red-cockaded woodpecker would move to the federal “threatened” list under a proposal announced Friday at Fort Benning, Ga., which has served as a refuge for a bird that, unlike other woodpeckers, spends years boring cavities into living pine trees. The proposal will soon go through a 60-day public comment period.

Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and other federal officials celebrated the proposal as a conservation success story.

“I think most of us can say that once something gets on there, it never gets off,” Perdue said of the endangered species list. “But I think this is a great example of down-listing due to population growth by virtue of what our soldiers at Fort Benning, our landowners and others have done in order to restore that population.”

The birds are small – usually about the size of a cardinal – and often confused with downy woodpeckers. The cavities they carve into trees are later used by a range of other animals, like squirrels and frogs, giving the birds an important role in Southern pine forests.

Once common throughout the Southeast, including North Carolina, the red-cockaded woodpecker numbered as many as 1.6 million groups – or family units – before European settlement brought severe habitat loss for a bird that prefers mature longleaf pine trees. Commercial timber harvesting, the turpentine industry, urbanization and agriculture also contributed to the near disappearance of the bird’s favored centuries-old trees.

North Carolina counties where the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker has been spotted, although infrequently Map: Carolina Bird Club

The red-cockaded woodpecker was spotted in Wake, Chatham, Montgomery and Anson counties in the 1980s and 1990s. But more recently, in 2015, the species was found at the Jordan Lake State Educational Forest. According to the Carolina Bird Club these woodpeckers were males that had been banded at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, and were dispersing from those colonies. However, the species has not been found since.

Fort Benning, in west Georgia, has been able to support the red-cockaded woodpecker as its population recovers. The Army base is home it about 412 breeding groups. Two decades ago, Fort Benning reported about 153.

Major General Patrick J. Donahoe, commanding General of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, said military installations often remain “biological time capsules” as the land around them is developed.

“While a small group of soldiers may occasionally visit the training areas here, it is the animal life and plant life that really own it,” Donahoe said. “So, we can use this opportunity to extend safeguards of our ecosystems and protect otherwise endangered species while we train amongst it.”

Donahoe said the post’s conservation efforts cost about $1 million a year. Fort Benning has also donated some of its resident birds to help build up the population in other areas.

When the red-cockaded woodpecker was deemed endangered in 1970, the population had hit an all-time low of about 1,470 clusters.

There are now likely two to five times the number of clusters, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency reports an estimate of about 7,800 active clusters across 11 states from Virginia to Texas.

Although on the rebound, the red-cockaded woodpecker is still a fragile species. Special protections are proposed for the bird as it loses its endangered status, including prohibitions on harming trees where the woodpecker has painstakingly dug out cavities, harassing the birds during breeding season and the use of insecticides near where the birds are nesting and roosting. Read more