This might not come as news to anyone with a television, computer screen or mailbox, but spending on this year’s elections across Georgia is well beyond $100 million — even as reports continue to roll in ahead of Election Day on Tuesday.
In the Senate race, the candidates alone had spent a record-smashing $41.5 million as of Oct. 15 through a lengthy Republican primary and runoff season and in a bruising general election. Outside groups have poured in an additional $28.4 million as of Thursday, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
Much of that goes toward ubiquitous, expensive television advertisements. The Center for Public Integrity estimates that Georgians have seen at least 65,000 broadcast television ads on the Senate race from the candidates and outside groups. The only state with higher TV ad spending in a Senate race this year is North Carolina.
Big money has cascaded into the governor’s race as well. Democrat Jason Carter has raised about $8 million since entering the race in November 2013 and spent just about all of it. Gov. Nathan Deal has spent much of the $15.3 million he’s raised on his re-election bid, save for $150,000 or so earmarked for a possible runoff.
And candidates for other statewide offices and congressional seats — including three spots left wide open when their inhabitants decided to run for the Senate — have spent millions more to boost their chances.
The constant barrage has many weary voters dreading a new round of campaign commercials if both contests plunge into separate runoffs.
“I am getting tired of the negative ads,” said Stephen Need of Greensboro. “I am tuning out. I wish they went with their own credibility instead of tearing each other down. They should run on their own record and not the other guy’s background.”
The barrage has been heaviest for the Senate race between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn, which could decide which party controls the chamber next year.
Libertarians Amanda Swafford, in the Senate race, and Andrew Hunt, in the governor’s race, could prevent the major party candidates from capturing 50 percent on Tuesday and force a runoff — but they have raised little money. Hunt has run seven ads at a cost of $1,080, according to the CPI.
Nunn, a nonprofit executive in her first run for office, has been one of her party’s biggest fundraising stars. Through the middle of the month she had raised more than $13 million since entering the race in July 2013.
Nunn has deployed it in television ads that play up her bipartisan streak with such figures as President George H.W. Bush — who endorsed Perdue and challenged the use of his image — and her father, centrist former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn. She also has aggressively gone after Perdue’s business record, including ads about workers who lost their jobs at textile maker Pillowtex and Perdue saying he was “proud” of a career mostly spent outsourcing.
Perdue, a Fortune 500 CEO and political newcomer, memorably cast his opponents as babies in ads during the primary election. His general election spots have been less cheeky, as he has talked up his status as an outsider and deployed his mother. Perdue also has steadily tied Nunn to unpopular President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The Republican drew wide scorn for an advertisement drawing a connection between Nunn’s Points of Light nonprofit and terrorists, based on a Nunn internal memo that predicted such a misleading attack. Perdue has stood by the ad.
Nunn has far outspent Perdue on the air this fall, but more pro-Republican outside money has rushed to his side, including from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Ending Spending Action Fund Super PAC. Ending Spending, founded by Ameritrade CEO Joe Ricketts, has spent $5.6 million in Georgia this year — mostly attacking Nunn and mirroring the GOP campaign to paint her as Obama’s lackey.
In all, the CPI estimates that about $17 million has been spent on television ads in the governor’s race. More than 29,000 broadcast TV ads have run for state contests, the vast majority for the governor’s race.
Deal has pumped at least $5.4 million into TV spots for his campaign. They started off sunny and positive, touting his record and accomplishments. As November neared, predictably, they turned much sharper.
Carter, a state senator from Atlanta, needed to invest a lot more work to boost his name recognition. He’s outspent Deal on ads, including $5 million worth that were classified as negative or mixed because they target the incumbent governor.
Both campaigns’ ads have been increasingly bruising. Carter’s spots have questioned the governor’s financial turnaround and his sale of a salvage yard to a Texas firm locked in a tax dispute with the state.
Deal’s ads have painted Carter as a do-nothing, “silver-tongued” politician who inevitably would be forced to raise taxes to keep his promise to boost education funding and expand Georgia’s Medicaid program.
The Republican also has a financial edge Carter can’t hope to match. The Republican Governors Association has pumped more than $3.5 million into the race, including at least $2.4 million into attack ads slamming Carter.
The Democrat, meanwhile, has only $300,000 or so worth of TV backup from the state Democratic Party, and big outside groups haven’t come to his aid.
“We’re not waiting for any cavalry to come,” Carter said at a campaign stop. “We’re going to solve the problems here in Georgia.”
That outside spending could determine the race.
The RGA’s spots aim to drive up Carter’s negative approval ratings by questioning his support for the Affordable Care Act and labeling him “just another politician.”
The outside spending could also inflame the base. A Democratic flier aimed at turning out black voters urges them to vote “if you want to prevent another Ferguson” in a reference to the turmoil in the Missouri town. And Republicans have tried to jolt their supporters with robocalls claiming Carter wants to “eliminate the HOPE scholarship” for many middle-class families. The Democrat’s campaign called it a “shameful lie.”
The U.S. Senate race has shattered spending records in the state. The candidates spent a combined $24 million in 2008, when Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss won a general election runoff, and $17 million when Chambliss unseated Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Cleland in 2002.
The spending in the governor’s race, though, is more on par with some recent contests. It also provides a reminder that the candidate with the most money doesn’t always win.
In the 2002 campaign, Gov. Roy Barnes raised roughly $20 million. A little-known Republican state senator named Sonny Perdue, David’s cousin, raised about $3.5 million in that race — and won.
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