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Warnock's historic victory upends a failed Republican strategy

Georgia's Kelly Loeffler thought the key to success was running to the far-right and tying herself to Trump. Raphael Warnock exposed the flaw in that plan.
Image: Georgia Democratic Senate Candidate Raphael Warnock Campaigns On Election Day
Georgia Democratic Candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock meets with supporters on Jan. 5, 2021 in Marietta, Ga.Megan Varner / Getty Images

When Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) had to give up his Senate seat in 2019 for health reasons, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) came up with a plan. Kelly Loeffler, the governor assumed, would be Isakson's ideal successor, helping the Republican Party expand its reach, especially with moderate and suburban voters in a quickly changing state.

The plan, however, quickly changed. Loeffler, facing a conservative intra-party rival, decided the key to success was moving as far to the right as possible. The appointed GOP senator eventually boasted with pride that she's "more conservative than Attila the Hun," was "ranked the most conservative United States Senator," and enjoyed a "100% Trump voting record."

On the eve of her runoff election, the incumbent settled on an unexpected closing message: Loeffler would use her office to object to Joe Biden's victory, democracy be damned.

How'd that work out?

Democrat Raphael Warnock defeated Republican Kelly Loeffler Tuesday, NBC News projects, in one of two critical runoff elections in Georgia that will determine control of the Senate and potentially the fate of Joe Biden's presidency.... Warnock, who has never before run for public office, is the pastor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s former church in Atlanta. He will be the first Black senator from Georgia and only the 11th Black senator in American history.

NBC News' Sahil Kapur reflected on Loeffler trying to win by moving to the far-right, noting that it gave Democrats an opening to caricature her as "a pawn of the president and a party establishment that was using them."

Warnock, meanwhile, started the race as a longshot. Democratic leaders initially turned to a series of more well-known figures to run -- Stacey Abrams, Sally Yates, and Michelle Nunn were among the many who declined -- before recruiting the reverend.

He ends the race as a senator, after running like a seasoned pro.

As for Georgia's other U.S. Senate race, as of this minute, Jon Ossoff (D) leads incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R), but the race has not yet been called. The results should come into focus today, and if the challenger maintains his lead, Democrats will have a majority in both houses of Congress.