The 2020–21 United States Senate special election in Georgia was held on November 3, 2020 and on January 5, 2021 (as a runoff), to elect the Class III member of the United States Senate to represent the State of Georgia. Democrat Raphael Warnock defeated appointed incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler. The first round of the election was held on November 3, 2020, however, no candidate received a majority of the vote, so the top two candidates–Warnock and Loeffler–advanced to a runoff on January 5, 2021.
The election arose from the resignation of Republican Class III Senator Johnny Isakson in December 2019. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to serve as Isakson’s interim replacement on January 6, 2020. Because of this, Warnock’s term will conclude on January 3, 2023, and he will have the option to run for reelection to a full term in 2022.
In accordance with Georgia law, no primary election took place for the special election; all candidates, regardless of party, were placed on the same ballot (known as a nonpartisan blanket primary), and the election was held on November 3, 2020. Warnock received the most votes with 32.9%, and Loeffler came in second with 25.9%. As no candidate received more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates advanced to a runoff election on January 5, 2021.
The runoff was held concurrently with the regular Georgia Class II Senate election, in which Democrat Jon Ossoff defeated incumbent Republican David Perdue, also in a runoff on January 5. Following the November 3, 2020 Senate elections, Republicans held 50 Senate seats and the Democratic caucus–consisting of 46 registered Democrats and two allied independents–held 48. Because of this, the two Georgia runoffs determined the balance of the United States Senate under the incoming Biden administration. Winning both races gave the Democratic caucus 50 Senate seats, an effective majority with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes. The extraordinarily high political stakes caused the races to attract significant attention nationwide and globally.
Major media outlets, including Decision Desk HQ, the Associated Press, The New York Times, and NBC News, called the election for Warnock in the early hours of January 6, just minutes after he apparently declared victory. Though Loeffler vowed to challenge the results after she returned from the electoral vote certification in Washington, she conceded on January 7. Ossoff and Warnock became the first Democrats to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia since Zell Miller in the 2000 special election. Warnock is the first African-American senator from Georgia, as well as the first African-American Democrat from the South elected to the Senate. Hours later, Ossoff was declared the winner in the regular Senate election. The two elections mark the first time since 1994 that both Senate seats in a state have flipped from one party to the other in a single election cycle.
The election results were certified on January 19, 2021, with the senators-elect taking office on January 20.
Sources and further reading:
Loeffler Concedes Georgia Senate Race as Recount Now Unlikely
Senate Runoff Map