(CNN) — Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff won the Democratic primary for a US Senate seat avoiding a runoff, CNN projected Thursday, becoming a standard bearer for a party increasingly hopeful of taking the Republican Southern stronghold in 2020.
Ossoff garnered over 50% of the vote,despite fierce competition from other Democrats. He will now face incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue in the fall.
“The President of the United States and his allies in Congress are leading this country down a dark path,” Ossoff said in a livestream to his supporters Wednesday night. “We can no longer go down a path of authoritarianism, of racism, of corruption. We are better than this, and Georgia is better than this.”
Ossoff’s victory was called after an Election Day fiasco. State officials launched investigations into a new system that cost over $100 million before the polls even closed on Tuesday, unsettled by reports of hours-long lines and machines that were misused, missing or malfunctioning. County and state officials blamed each other for the debacle.
On Wednesday afternoon, Ossoff said that there were still hundreds of thousands of outstanding ballots, calling the state’s voting process an “embarrassment,” an “outrage” and an “affront to our constitutional principles.” Ossoff said that while there is “blame to go around” among officials for their “comprehensive failure,” he was “particularly disgusted” that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “refused to take any personal responsibility for a debacle that was clear to anybody watching.”
In a statement Wednesday night, Raffensperger blamed county officials but said he would work with them. He noted that it was their responsibility to “properly deliver and install equipment” and “properly train its poll workers.” He added that his office’s law enforcement officers would investigate the voting delays in Fulton county, which encompasses Atlanta, and “improperly handled absentee ballot applications.”
Georgia has not elected a Democratic senator in 20 years. But Democrats have become optimistic that they will compete in Georgia, spurred by the growth of the Atlanta suburbs and voter expansion efforts led by former state House minority leader and 2018 gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.
Ossoff, the CEO of a documentary production company, lost his first campaign in 2017, which was the most expensive US House race in history.
But he again raised by far the most money in the Democratic primary and boasted the high-profile endorsement of Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon.
Ossoff emphasized his more progressive positions on criminal justice while attacking Perdue for trading stocks during the pandemic. Perdue has responded by pointing out that his advisers made the transactions and that they will no longer trade in individual companies.
“Now more than ever, Georgians need outsider David Perdue and his experienced leadership in the U.S. Senate,” said Perdue campaign manager Ben Fry. “While Jon Ossoff is a favorite of liberal elites and Hollywood celebrities, he will be nothing but a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and their radical agenda.”
Ossoff’s two closest challengers were Teresa Tomlinson, the former Columbus mayor, and Sarah Riggs Amico, the 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor and executive chair of a trucking company. Tomlinson, who ran to Ossoff’s left, claimed on Wednesday that he had not received a majority of votes and the election would turn to a run-off between her and him. Hours later, she congratulated Ossoff and called on her supporters to vote for him.
This fall, Democrats will also try to defeat Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed late last year after Sen. Johnny Isakson announced his resignation. Loeffler’s stock transactions during the coronavirus pandemic have been heavily scrutinized but the Department of Justice closed its investigation without criminal charges.
Still, she faces a strong challenge from Republican Rep. Doug Collins, who helped lead the defense of Trump during his impeachment in the House, and Democrats, including Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Matt Lieberman, a businessman and son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman.
That election will be decided by an unusual format, in which all of the candidates will be on the same ballot in November. If no candidate receives a majority, the top two finishers will advance to a January runoff.
Tuesday’s mess raised concerns of what’s to come this fall, when turnout is expected to be even higher.
“Let’s all work, hope and pray that this not be a preview of November,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted.
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