Control of the Senate hung in the balance Tuesday night as the nation awaited the results from the Georgia runoff races.
The cliffhanger ending to the 2020 election cycle spoke to the polarized nature of the nation’s political landscape and will dictate the magnitude of the opposition that President-elect Joseph R. Biden faces in the Senate.
Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are defending their seats against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.
Democrats need to win both seats to claim control of the Senate. Otherwise, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, will keep hold of the reins in the upper chamber and make life more difficult for Mr. Biden.
Polls closed at 7 p.m.
With 99% of the estimated vote reported, Mr. Perdue and Mr. Ossoff were tied at 50% each, with Mr. Perdue up by less than 1,000 votes. In the other race, Mr. Warnock held a 50.4% to 49.6% lead over Ms. Loeffler.
No major news organizations had called either race as of midnight.
The early tallies favored the Democrats, but results started to swing in the Republicans’ favor when the votes cast on Election Day proper began to be counted, but settled back into a near-tie as Democratic-dominated big cities finished their counting last.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said he did not anticipate winners to be declared until Wednesday, given the large number of mail-in ballots that needed to be counted.
Election officials also said as many as 17,000 military and overseas ballots are outstanding and can be accepted through Friday.
The runoff races played out after none of the candidates secured at least 50% of the vote in the Nov. 3 election and with several Republican lawmakers planning to object Wednesday to accepting the results of the Electoral College presidential vote.
Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler supported the push, which almost certainly will fail, signaling their allegiance to President Trump and his insistence that Democrats stole the Nov. 3 election.
Early exit polls from the Georgia runoff races found that 56% of voters believed that the 2020 election was aboveboard, but the responses broke heavily along partisan lines with 76% of Republicans saying the election was not conducted fairly.
Voters also were split over how elected leaders should respond to COVID-19, with 52% saying they want lawmakers to focus on containing the coronavirus and 42% saying they are more interested in rebuilding the economy.
The exit polls also showed the electorate was older than the one that voted in November.
Mr. Perdue is running for a second term. Ms. Loeffler was appointed to her seat in 2019 after Sen. Johnny Isakson stepped down because of failing health.
Ms. Loeffler is running to serve out the remainder of Mr. Isakson’s term, which runs through 2022.
The two Republicans tied their fortunes to Mr. Trump, who has spent the past two months casting doubts over the integrity of President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s victory in Georgia and elsewhere, and attacking Gov. Brian Kemp and Mr. Raffensperger, both Republicans, for not bowing to his demands.
Mr. Trump raised fresh doubts about the runoff races Tuesday by sounding the alarm on “reports” out of the 12th Congressional District that Dominion voting machines “are not working in certain Republican Strongholds for over an hour.”
“Ballots are being left in lock boxes, hopefully they count them,” Mr. Trump said in a Twitter post.
Gabriel Sterling, a top state election official, responded by saying the issue had been resolved hours before Mr. Trump’s tweet.
“The votes of everyone will be protected and counted,” Mr. Sterling said. “Sorry you received old intel Mr. President.”
Mr. Trump dominated the spotlight this week after audio emerged of a phone call in which he pressured Mr. Raffensperger over the weekend to “find” him enough votes to overturn the results of the election.
Mr. Trump went on to vow at a campaign rally for Mr. Perdue and Ms. Leoffler to support primary challengers against Mr. Kemp and Mr. Raffensperger.
Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler said in a joint statement Tuesday that the Election Day turnout data suggested Mr. Trump bolstered their bids.
“We are encouraged by reports of high voter turnout across the state — particularly so in North Georgia, where President Trump rallied Republicans last night,” they said in a joint statement. “But make no mistake about it: this is going to [be] a very close election and could come down to the difference of just a few votes in a few precincts across the state.”
More than 3 million people voted early, including over 1 million with mail-in ballots.
The general consensus has been that Republicans needed a strong turnout to close the gap on Democrats’ advantage with mail-in ballots.
The twin races marked the culmination of a chaotic election cycle. Voters sent mixed messages for both parties.
Democrats celebrated Mr. Biden’s victory over Mr. Trump but were left licking their wounds after Republicans flipped 12 seats in the House. Republicans also fared better than expected in Senate races.
The candidates on Tuesday delivered their final pleas to voters and their final digs against their rivals.
Mr. Perdue said Mr. Ossoff is a “trust fund baby who never created an American job” and warned that he is weak when it comes to China.
“My plea to the people of Georgia is don’t get confused by all the nonsense,” Mr. Perdue said on “Fox and Friends.” “My mom and dad were schoolteachers. I was raised on a farm. I promise you my dad did not buy me a business.”
Mr. Ossoff said voters can count on receiving $2,000 stimulus checks if they send him and Mr. Warnock to Washington.
He also urged voters to head to the polls, saying they have a chance to “participate in this historic moment and make your voices heard.”
“When we win both of these Senate races, we will pass $2,000 stimulus checks immediately for the American people,” he told reporters. “I spoke with the president-elect personally about that yesterday.”
Ms. Loeffler said she was focusing on fighting for lower taxes, a stronger economy and the Constitution.
“We can stop socialism from coming to America,” she said. “We can defend the American Dream for generations to come.”
Mr. Warnock vowed to fight for a new civil rights act and to strengthen voting rights and said it is shameful that Ms. Loeffler is “aiding and abetting” Mr. Trump and his allies in their quest to overturn the results of the November election, which she announced she would do Monday.
“It is shameful what she said last night,” Mr. Warnock said. “She wants to spend her time trying to take your voice.”