ATLANTA — Putting an end to a months-long GOP divide, Congressman Doug Collins conceded Tuesday night to U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the U.S. Senate special election race, sending her into an inevitable runoff.
Just after 10:30 p.m. on election night, Collins announced on social media he had called Loeffler to concede and offered his endorsement.
“I just called (Loeffler) and congratulated her on making the runoff,” Collins said on social media. “She has my support and endorsement. I look forward to all Republicans coming together.
“Raphael Warnock would be a disaster for Georgia and America,” he added.
The concession came when Collins garnered 23% of votes counted so far, trailing Loeffler and Warnock, the top Democratic challenger, who were neck-and-neck at 28% each.
The Associated Press determined Loeffler and Warnock were headed to the runoff shortly after 11 p.m.
Republicans in Georgia have been divided since Collins bucked the party and announced his bid to run against Loeffler, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the remainder of former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat upon his retirement.
President Donald Trump, who favored Collins as the pick, pushed Kemp to select the congressman. But Kemp went against the president and chose Loeffler, a wealthy Buckhead businesswoman.
During a press briefing the morning of Election Day, Loeffler said if she fell behind Collins and Warnock in the race, she would support Collins in the runoff.
The two have been locked in a battle to prove who is the “true conservative” in the race. Collins amassed support from many rural leaders and House Speaker David Ralston while Loeffler took a different approach and veered hard right, touting the endorsement of controversial District 14 candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Both Loeffler and Collins tout their pro-Trump, pro-abortion and pro-gun stances and hurled personal attacks throughout the campaign cycle to knock each other down in the eyes of voters.
Collins long argued Georgians appreciated his track record in Congress — after he became nationally known as a staunch Trump supporter during the impeachment proceedings — and argued Loeffler was inauthentic.
Pundits have speculated Kemp picked Loeffler to appeal to moderate, suburban women but has since bolstered a far-right conservative base.
The votes played out in her advantage Tuesday night, solidifying her spot on the ballot in January.
Loeffler said earlier in the day that if she made it into the Jan. 5 runoff, she would continue serving the state in the same ways she has “since day one.”
“I have got to tell every single person here, every single person across the state that voted for me, that trusted me, that believed in me, that I will champion their conservative values," she said during her victory speech. "I asked for one thing, be my voice today and I will be your voice for years."
During her victory speech, echoed hopes that the party will now unite behind her as a candidate.
“You all know how important it is that we all come together because the radical left wants to take over this country and we’re going to fight back against that," she said around 11:30 p.m.
Loeffler will face rising Democratic star Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor at Martin Luther King Jr.’s church — who attracted a dramatic increase in support for his bid during the past few weeks. Warnock has been aided in his campaign by high-profile Democrats such as Stacey Abrams and Barack Obama.
Shortly after 10 p.m., Warnock delivered election night remarks to supporters. He described his childhood growing up in housing projects in Savannah and attending Morehouse College.
"I ask the people of Georgia tonight: how do you know what someone will do once they are in office,” he said. "I submit that what you do is you look at what they were doing before they were running.”
A staple of the Democrat's campaign has been his advocacy for expanded health care access – an issue which he and Jon Ossoff, the Democrat running against U.S. Sen. David Perdue, have criticized their GOP opponents.
During his speech, Warnock warned supporters the months leading up to the runoff will be filled with “petty and personal attacks.”
"They are going to try to distract us and divide us by making us afraid of each other. And here’s why,” he said. "People who lack vision traffic in division. They cannot lead us so they will seek to divide us."