With the race for the White House hanging in the balance, Joe Biden pulled slightly ahead of President Donald Trump in Georgia early Friday as election workers tallied some of the last remaining absentee ballots and anxious voters pored over every update of the count.
Though there were still thousands of ballots to be counted, Democrats celebrated Biden’s climb in the polls as a crowning achievement of a decade-long push to make the party competitive in Georgia again. John Legend belted out “Georgia On My Mind” and jubilant Georgians who stayed up overnight to watch the tallies gushed on social media.
The race still remained too close to call. More than 10,000 absentee votes still needed to be tallied, along with military, overseas and provisional ballots. But Democrats exuded confidence, in part because one of the largest troves of outstanding ballots was from left-leaning Gwinnett County.
Just as Trump’s margins steadily eroded throughout Thursday, so did U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s lead over Democrat Jon Ossoff. The two now appear headed for a January runoff after Perdue’s vote total plunged beneath the 50% mark, though The Associated Press had yet to call the contest.
A Perdue-Ossoff runoff would be the second of Georgia’s two nationally watched Senate races to go into overtime: U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock emerged from a 21-canidate special election and will also square off Jan. 5. Together, the two races could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
As analysts pored over every newly tallied packet of absentee ballots, the presidential campaigns split their attention between Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania — each rated as too close to call.
Georgia hasn’t voted Democratic in a White House race since 1992, and a Biden victory here would be a huge blow to Trump’s reelection bid. Even without Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, though, the Democrat seemed to have an advantage in the other crucial battleground states.
Trump’s once-formidable lead over Biden shrank throughout the day as election staffers tallied tens of thousands of mail-in ballots, which became the preferred Democratic method of voting during this pandemic-tinged election campaign. The same trend helped Ossoff climb in his runoff with Perdue.
When Perdue was on the verge of falling below the 50% threshold, his campaign sent a statement that he was preparing for another round of voting, as required by Georgia law when no candidate captures a majority of the vote.
“If overtime is required when all of the votes have been counted, we’re ready, and we will win,” Perdue campaign manager Ben Fry said.
Ossoff campaign manager Ellen Foster said Georgians “are going to send Jon to the Senate to defend their health care and put the interests of working families and small businesses ahead of corporate lobbyists.”
As election workers whittled away a trove of absentee ballots, which were mostly from Democratic-leaning counties, state officials provided frequent updates.
While some of the remaining absentee ballots were counted Thursday, provisional ballots, military overseas votes and others won’t be tallied for days.
“I think it’s really close,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said, “and it could be as close as 1,000 votes.”
Gabriel Sterling, the state voting system implementation manager, warned of an “extremely close margin” in the top races as he called for patience.
“Fast is great. We appreciate fast,” he added. “We more appreciate accuracy.”
As they struggled in the polls, Republicans shifted their efforts to the courtroom.
A lawsuit filed by the Georgia GOP and the Trump campaign that suggested 53 absentee ballots were mishandled by Chatham County officials was promptly dismissed by a judge. Local Republicans, who held a Thursday rally featuring Donald Trump Jr., threatened more litigation.
Democrats, meanwhile, were on pins and needles over the chance to flip the state.
“People are excited and tired and optimistic,” said Lauren Groh Wargo, chief executive of the Fair Fight voting rights group.
“Georgia is supercompetitive, and we really feel like Biden will be ahead," she said. "And we expect the Trump campaign and desperate Republicans will do all sorts of things to try to stop it.”