ATLANTA — Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock advanced to a Jan. 5 runoff, leaving Gainesville Republican Doug Collins just behind in the crowded race.
Loeffler and Warnock were the top two finishers but neither was able to get the 50% threshold needed in order to win outright.
Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman, was appointed last year to replace retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson. Warnock is pastor of the Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached and is trying to become Georgia's first Black U.S. senator.
Collins, who had gathered with supporters Tuesday night at the Legacy Lodge ballroom at Lanier Islands resort in South Hall, conceded defeat late Tuesday, tweeting: "I just called @KLoeffler and congratulated her on making the runoff. She has my support and endorsement." Collins did carry his home Hall County, with 44% to Loeffler's 24.9% and Warnock's 15.8%. In Forsyth County Collins received 29.46% of the vote compared to Loeffler’s 37.74% and Warnock’s 14.59%.
Warnock addressed supporters and promised to fight for "ordinary people" worried about keeping their jobs and health care.
"It never mattered much to me, and it doesn't matter tonight, who I have to run against," Warnock said, "because I've always been clear about who I'm running for."
Warnock gained the backing of Democratic leaders including former President Barack Obama. That helped clear the field for Warnock on the Democratic side while Loeffler and Collins battled it out on the right.
Either Loeffler or Warnock will serve the rest of Isakson's term. The seat goes on the ballot again in 2022.
Democrats haven't won a Senate race in Georgia in two decades. But ongoing population growth around Atlanta and shifting demographics have helped fuel hope among Democrats that the state is in play.
Both sides poured huge amounts of money into the races, and record numbers of people cast ballots early. Georgia has also seen a large increase in absentee ballots cast by mail.
Loeffler and Collins, a four-term congressman who is one of Trump's most visible defenders in the House, fought a fierce battle for voters from the conservative base of the GOP.
Though Collins immediately endorsed Loeffler as part of his concession, the bitterly personal tone of their attacks could make it difficult for supporters of the Republican rivals to unite in time for the January runoff, University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said.
For Loeffler, "her challenge would be to simply get Republicans back behind her," Bullock said. "That's a real risk."
Original story reported from Times reporter Jeff Gill.