The major-party candidates now running for Georgia governor: (top row, from left) Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, former state House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams, Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and former Republican state Sen. Hunter Hill, (bottom row, from left) Republican businessman Clay Tippins, former Democratic state Rep. Stacey Evans and Republican state Sen. Michael Williams.

The race for Georgia governor is a $20 million contest

Candidates have amassed more than $20 million as they intensified their battle to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal — and they’ve begun to dig deep into their campaign coffers to win over voters ahead of the May primaries.

Reports posted on Wednesday’s deadline show the campaigns have spent millions of dollars hiring staff, opening offices across the state and preparing volleys of TV ads and direct-mail salvos to boost their candidacies or tear down a rival.

The reports are a gauge of each candidate’s viability less than four months before the May 22 vote. Though the hunt for campaign cash won’t decide the race, the totals are early indicators of the depth of their support — and send a message to activists and donors who haven’t picked a side.

And though the race is still unsettled, overall trends have set in.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has emerged as the front-runner in the Republican race, amassing nearly $7 million in campaign contributions. The four other GOP candidates have each focused their attacks on him, and two prominently featured Cagle look-alikes in their TV ads.

And the emergence of newcomer Clay Tippins, who joined the race in November, has added a wild card element. The first-time candidate is positioning himself as the race’s top outsider, and he’s the only GOP candidate who refused to pledge to support “religious liberty” measures. He amassed roughly $2 million in campaign contributions and loans.

The Democratic candidates were more evenly matched in fundraising. Former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams has taken in roughly $1.7 million since July, while ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans raised a similar amount with help from a personal loan of $1 million.

Both will use their campaign funds to test out competing visions of their party’s future.

Abrams is running as an “unapologetic progressive” with hopes of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of minorities and left-leaning voters who rarely cast ballots. Evans is banking on swaying suburbanites and independents who have bolted in recent years to the GOP.

The race could wind up being the most expensive gubernatorial contest in Georgia history, and it’s already outpacing the last contest for an open governor’s seat.

In early 2010, the race for governor had been underway for more than a year and the seven leading candidates had collected at least $13.3 million. In this contest, which jump-started in late March, candidates have already raised or loaned themselves at least $20.3 million.

Here’s a breakdown of each report:

Former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D):

The Atlanta Democrat reported raising about $1.7 million over the past seven months for a total haul of nearly $2.3 million since she entered the race last year. But she also appeared to have spent the most of any candidate, burning through all but $460,000 of that sum.

A big chunk of that money was spent opening field offices — she’s got nearly a dozen to date — and building up her get-out-the-vote operations. But her critics have already panned her burn rate — the ratio of collecting cash to spending it — as unsustainable.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (R):

Setting the high bar for the second reporting period, Cagle raised more than $4 million in the past seven months for a total of about $6.7 million. His campaign will have all but roughly $1 million of that sum in its accounts in the run-up to the May vote.

He’s leaned on help from many well-connected lobbyists and other Capitol veterans to amass his campaign fortune. And he released his figures early — about three weeks ahead of Wednesday’s deadline — to ratchet up the pressure on his rivals.

Former state Rep. Stacey Evans (D)

The Smyrna Democrat kept pace with her top rival in the race for governor thanks partly to a $1 million loan from her personal account.

The former state legislator reported Wednesday that she collected nearly $2.3 million since she jumped in the race, including the loan, putting her on par with Abrams.

But the two differed greatly in how much cash they had in their coffers. Evans reported she had more than $1.5 million available to spend in the May primary.

Former state Sen. Hunter Hill (R)

The Atlanta Republican followed up his seven-figure take last year with another million-dollar haul.

He raised $1.1 million this period and has amassed about $2.2 million since he entered the race in April. He’s got most of that sum — about $1.5 million — on hand.

And he’s already used a chunk of his account to finance a nearly $400,000 ad buy introducing him to conservative voters — and portraying Cagle as a swamp creature.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R)

With an additional $1.2 million added to his campaign coffers, the Athens Republican has now amassed roughly $2.9 million for his gubernatorial bid. And he’s got about $2.1 million of that haul still in the bank.

He’s gunning to be the main threat to Cagle by running on a “Georgia First” platform in hopes of locking down rural parts of the state. And he announced a bus tour later this month to visit 50 counties in 10 days.

Business executive Clay Tippins (R)

A relative unknown before he joined the race in November, Tippins is fast trying to make a name for himself.

The business executive said he collected about $2.1 million — including a $450,000 loan — and has about $1.7 million cash on hand.

He’s already pumped about $250,000 of those funds into TV ads to introduce himself. His debut 60-second spot, produced by Hollywood adsmith Fred Davis, aired during Sunday’s Super Bowl and depicted his opponents as flailing wannabes.

State Sen. Michael Williams (R)

Running as a Donald Trump loyalist, the Cumming Republican is trying to make up for a lack of big-dollar checks with smaller donations — he claims thousands of contributors — and by dipping into his own wallet.

His latest fundraising figures show he has loaned his campaign about $1.5 million and raised roughly $275,000.

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