GRIFFIN, Ga. — With control of the Senate up for grabs in twin runoff elections, a torrent of money is pouring into Georgia at more than $2 million a day of TV and radio ads and the spending is just getting started ahead of the Jan. 5 vote.
“Most people are saying, Do we really have to go through all this again” after the presidential election just weeks ago, said Republican voter Richard DiGloria, from Gwinnett County, an Atlanta suburb.
More than $46 million has already been spent on the airwaves in both races just since Election Day Nov. 3, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics, with another $214 million already booked and much more expected to come before the elections.
The contests — GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler pitted against Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock and Republican Sen. David Perdue facing Democratic rival Jon Ossoff — are expected to become the most expensive Senate contests ever as the blizzard of political attack ads threatens to blot out cheery Christmas promotions through the holiday season in a state just beginning to come to grips with its new status as a battleground.
In addition to the campaigns, which have both seen money pouring into their coffers from grassroots and big donors alike, spending has been dominated by deep-pocketed super PACs on both sides of the aisle that spend heavily on Senate races.
On the Democratic side, the Senate Majority PAC has created two spinoffs to run ads against Loeffler and Perdue, including spots that seek to portray them as creatures of the Washington swamp, perhaps in an attempt to discourage turnout from supporters of President Donald Trump, who have been feuding with state GOP leaders for certifying President-elect Biden‘s victory in the state.
On the Republican side, GOP operative Karl Rove and the Senate Leadership Fund have pledged to spend tens of millions of dollars, including on ads that may be aimed at depressing turnout from moderate suburban voters who backed Biden but may not be completely comfortable with putting Democrats in charge of everything.
Voters are not thrilled.
“Email, text messages, mailers, you name it — can you please not talk to me anymore?” said state Sen. Marty Harbin, a Republican, who said even he gets frustrated by the endless barrage. “Everybody is using every tool they have.”
Some have taken to social media to scream into the void.
“Save your money I don’t need any more crap in my mailbox, spam phone calls or emails,” said one Georgia Twitter user. “I can’t watch anything without being POUNDED with political ads. I get it, but I’m sooooooo tired,” tweeted another.
With roughly three-quarters of voters in the Atlanta media market, its handful of TV stations are already approaching saturation. From morning to night, seemingly every commercial break features at least one political ad. Some are filled with four back-to-back campaign spots, playing out as miniature debates between rounds of Wheel of Fortune.
A Republican backing Loeffler accuses Warnock of being anti-police, which is followed by a Warnock ad featuring police officers saying those attacks are false. Then a Democratic super PAC ad accuses Perdue of corruption, which is rebutted by a GOP super PAC ad saying Ossoff is a tool of the far left.
The sky-high advertising is driven by the stratospheric stakes. It’s an unprecedented situation — double-barreled runoffs deciding control of the Senate after an extremely polarized election. Democrats need to win both runoffs to take control of the chamber with Kamala Harris casting the tie breaking vote. Republicans need to take just one of the races to hold control of the Senate.
“(These races) will determine the direction of our country for the next 50 to 100 years,” Perdue said at a campaign stop at a shooting range Monday, standing in front of a bus emblazoned with four words: “Win Georgia. Save America.”
“I’m not overstating it. That is the turning point we are potentially at right now,” Perdue added with the sound of gunfire in the distance. “If they get our two seats, it’ll be 50-50. And what that means is the tiebreak will be the vice president (Harris). And so they’ll have the majority.”
Perdue didn’t mention Ossoff or Warnock in his remarks, but said he wants to buy progressive New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a plane ticket to come down to Georgia to campaign for the Democratic candidates.
Republicans see the Senate as “last line of defense,” as Loeffler put it in a fundraising solicitation, since Democrats would have complete control of Washington with Biden in the White House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer leading the Senate if Democrats win.
“Our entire country could swing so far to the other side that we may never go back to the Republican side,” said Carolyn Aycock, who came out to see Perdue speak at the shooting range. “I think this is the most important runoff election ever.”
Republicans warn if Democrats would eliminate the Senate filibuster and add new, Democratic-leaning states the union to cement their majority if they win. “Now we take Georgia, then we change America!” as Schumer said in a clip aired repeatedly in GOP ads.
Still, Democratic disappointments in the regular Senate elections mean that agenda is probably on hold for now, since even if they win in Georgia, the party would have only the narrowest of majorities and their more conservative members, like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, have said they wouldn’t support those changes.
Democrats don’t disagree about the stakes of races, which will determine whether Biden has a friendly Congress to work with on everything from Cabinet nominees to new Covid-19 relief measures.
“The argument in previous elections that it’s a life or death situation can be dismissed as hyperbole. This time that’s real,” said Nse Ufot, the CEO of the New Georgia Project, a progressive group that works to register voters, citing the Covid-19 pandemic. “It’s for the whole kitten caboodle. This is for the whole ball game.”
Alex Seitz-Wald reported from Georgia and Ben Kamisar from Washington, D.C.