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Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Democrat Raphael Warnock has defeated Republican Kelly Loeffler in the Georgia runoffs for the U.S. Senate, AP projected early Wednesday.

Why it matters: It's a massive, high-dollar win that brings Democrats one step closer to controlling the Senate. Democrat Jon Ossoff's bid against former Sen. David Perdue is still too early to call, per AP. Both Ossoff and Warnock need to win in order for Democrats to gain a potent 50-50 split in the Senate.

  • In that event, the vice president determines which party will hold the majority. In this case, Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaking vote after Jan. 20.
  • Warnock, an ordained minister who serves as senior pastor at Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, will join Cory Booker as one of only two Black Democratic senators after Inauguration Day. He will be the first Black senator to represent Georgia.

What they're saying: In a livestream video posted early Wednesday before his projected win, Warnock noted his mother picked "somebody else’s cotton" when she was a teenager.

  • "The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else's cotton picked her youngest son to be a United States senator," he said. "Tonight, we proved with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible."
  • He vowed to go to the Senate "to work for all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election."

Loeffler, in a speech moments before Warnock's, refused to concede and insisted she was on a "path to victory."

Between the lines: Loeffler is a multimillionaire businesswoman and GOP donor who was appointed to fill the retiring seat of Sen. Johnny Isakson by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019. She faced accusations of insider trading earlier this year after selling off massive amounts of stock following briefings on the coronavirus, but was not charged with any wrongdoing.

  • Republicans feared that President Trump's spread of misinformation around the election and his bashing of Georgia's Republican officials could dampen turnout.
  • Trump, who lost Georgia by over 11,000 votes, falsely claimed the state's elections were rigged against him and has pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to overturn the results.
  • Some prominent Trump surrogates encouraged voters not to turn out for the Republican senators unless they fixed the "rigged" November vote.

Yes, but: Trump still turned out to campaign for Loeffler and Perdue on Monday in Dalton, Ga.

  • "These Senate seats are truly the last line of defense. It's really fight for our country, not a fight for Trump," the president said, alluding to his hopes for the Senate to reject the Electoral College results.

President-elect Biden rallied for Democrats in Atlanta on Monday, focusing on the potential for more economic stimulus if Warnock and Ossoff were to win.

  • "$2,000 checks will go out the door, restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now," Biden said.

Go deeper

GOP Sen. Lankford apologizes to Black Oklahomans for electoral challenge

Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) has apologized to Black Oklahomans for challenging Joe Biden's Electoral College victory, saying he did not realize his actions would be seen as "casting doubt on the validity of votes" in predominantly Black cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia and Detroit.

The big picture: Lankford was part of a group of 11 senators, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who planned to object to the Electoral College certification unless Congress launched a commission to audit the election results. He later withdrew his objection after the pro-Trump siege of the Capitol.

Updated 38 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny during a march last February. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.