Capitol Recap: Money pours into Georgia’s U.S. Senate races

Credit: AJC FILE

Credit: AJC FILE

Ad spending hits $151 million in the two contests

Back in 2014, Georgia’s U.S. Senate race set a state record with a price tag of more than $74 million.

Now, with two U.S. Senate races running simultaneously, although in their separate ways, you can double it.

Media strategist Rick Dent, who tracks this kind of thing, says ad purchases for TV and radio in both races now total $151 million, and there are three-plus weeks left until the Nov. 3 election. That doesn’t even cover other expenditures, such as personnel costs and digital advertising.

More spending is almost certain, too, since at least one of the races is expected to go into overtime — a January runoff.

For a sense of scale, the 2018 race for governor between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams had been the most expensive campaign in Georgia history, topping $100 million.

So far, the big Senate money — about $111 million — has been dropped on the contest between Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff.

The largest share of that money, about $61.6 million, has gone toward promoting Perdue. Ossoff and his supporters have countered with roughly $50.2 million. Outside groups are responsible for much of the spending, but the two candidates have also stockpiled large chunks of cash.

Each candidate has a history of big campaign spending.

Perdue was part of that 2014 race that set the state standard for spending on a U.S. Senate race, when he defeated Democrat Michelle Nunn for an open seat. Ossoff made his mark with a narrow loss in the 2017 special election in the 6th Congressional District that cost $60 million, then the most expensive U.S. House election in history.

Georgia’s other U.S. Senate race isn’t exactly cheap.

So far, the 21-candidate special election to see who fills the final two years of retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term has cost $40 million.

The current occupant of the seat, Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, pledged to spend $20 million of her own money on the election. She isn’t there just yet. Her campaign has paid out $17 million, including roughly $2 million to reserve airtime through November.

Her chief supporters, Georgia United Victory and the Club for Growth, have kicked in nearly $7 million and about $2.4 million, respectively.

The other big-name Republican in the contest, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, doesn’t have the bankroll Loeffler has — she is possibly the richest person currently in the Senate. Collins, however, has managed to scrape up at least $1.3 million for airtime.

A similar financial divide exists over on the Democratic side of the race. Raphael Warnock, the front-runner among them, is well ahead in cash and has spent or reserved at least $9 million for TV ads. His Democratic rivals trail in a big way. Matt Lieberman has spent about $140,000, while Ed Tarver has devoted about $20,000 for ads. Neither has reserved significant future airtime.

Ex-CDC chief’s advice to agency’s current boss: Get fired

Dr. William Foege, a former head of the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offered a prescription to the agency’s current boss to stanch White House interference in the handling of the coronavirus: get yourself tossed out of the job.

Foege, who was the CDC director from 1977 to 1983, under the administrations of both Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, made the suggestion in a letter to current CDC Director Robert Redfield.

USA Today obtained a copy of that letter. Here’s part of its report:

"Foege, who has not been a vocal critic of the agency’s handling of the novel coronavirus, called on Redfield to openly address the White House’s meddling in the agency’s efforts to manage the COVID-19 crisis, then accept the political sacrifice that would follow. He recommended that Redfield commit to writing the administration’s failures — and his own — so there would be a record that could not be dismissed.

" ‘You could upfront, acknowledge the tragedy of responding poorly, apologize for what has happened and your role in acquiescing,’ Foege wrote to Redfield. He said simply resigning without coming clean would be insufficient. ‘Don’t shy away from the fact this has been an unacceptable toll on our country. It is a slaughter and not just a political dispute.’ ”

Credit: WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

Few on the fence about Capitol security project

The “People’s House” is in for a security upgrade, but some are raising questions about its curb appeal.

The most noticeable part of the $5 million project will be an 8-foot fence that will encircle the Georgia Capitol. Other work will take place at the Governor’s Mansion and the Department of Public Safety’s headquarters.

National Guard troops have been stationed at all three sites — at a cost of $200,000 a month — after they were targeted this summer by demonstrators seeking racial justice. That includes a protest at the DPS building that involved vandalism totaling about $250,000 in damage.

“It will give us a long-term solution where the Guard was a short-term solution for us,” Georgia State Patrol Capt. Jim Wicker said of the work.

“Hopefully this fence will eliminate the use for the Guard,” Wicker told Channel 2 Action News. He leads the 42 officers tasked with protecting the buildings.

Like most things at the Capitol, it has its fans and detractors.

House Speaker David Ralston endorsed the plan.

“This was a recommendation of the Department of Public Safety and the Georgia Building Authority. It was not a political decision and should not be made into a political issue,” said Kaleb McMichen, a spokesman for the Republican. “As with similar measures taken at government facilities all over the nation, its sole objective is the protection of the public and their property.”

Some Democrats showed more concern for protecting access than property.

“The state Capitol is the People’s House — not some untouchable fortress,” state Rep. Jasmine Clark said on Twitter. “It should be open and welcoming, not gated and intimidating.”

Health care providers slam physician candidate over virus

One hundred and twenty health care providers have signed a letter asking the Medical Association of Georgia to withdraw its endorsement of Republican Rich McCormick in the 7th Congressional District race.

The health care providers say in the letter that McCormick, an emergency room physician, spread misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and downplayed its effects, including in recent comments about herd immunity and a quick vaccine.

Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democrat in the race, has made similar statements about McCormick in her advertising. A timeline that appears in one of her press releases cites, among many other cases, McCormick’s appearance June 1 on the One America News Network where he said COVID-19 “wasn’t spreading” because “herd immunity” was developing against the disease and that a “vast majority — especially young people — are not getting sick.” He also called hydroxychloroquine, which the Food and Drug Administration has banned for emergency use, “a very safe drug.”

McCormick, who in his own ads has played up his position as a doctor on the front lines, has said he has always spoken about the coronavirus in good faith. He said what’s known about the virus and its severity has evolved over time.

His campaign also points out that one of the health care providers who signed the letter, Dr. Melanie Thompson, who brought the letter to light, has donated more than $10,000 to Bourdeaux’s campaign over the past two cycles.

The Medical Association of Georgia, an advocacy group for doctors, endorsed McCormick in September 2019, well before COVID-19 took hold. His connection to the the group includes its work on eliminating surprise medical billing.

Peach is a place to watch

While you’re chewing on popcorn election night, you may want to keep an eye on Peach County.

The New York Times, citing how Peach swung from Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016, has identified it as one of 10 bellwether counties to watch as the results come in.

“The population is 52 percent white and 44 percent Black, and its voting is racially polarized,” The Times piece said. “In 2012, Peach County voted by seven points for Mr. Obama. But in 2016, Black turnout dropped sharply, and Mr. Trump won it by three points. Peach County could be a good indicator of whether the addition of Senator Kamala Harris to Mr. Biden’s ticket improves Black turnout.”

Ethics groups point finger at Sonny Perdue

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is facing new complaints from ethics groups that he is misusing his position to support President Donald Trump’s reelection.

Politico notes that in the past the former governor of Georgia has kept many farmers in Trump’s corner by doling out unprecedented sums of taxpayer aid to offset the industry’s losses after years of trade turmoil and painful biofuel policies."

That spurred concerns from Democrats, Politico said, but they “have made almost no effort to attach any strings to the payments.”

Now, though, it says, “Perdue is facing a fresh round of criticism for requiring federal contractors to stuff promotional letters from Trump into millions of USDA food boxes distributed to needy families, over the objections of lawmakers and many food banks.”

The Agriculture Department has rejected the allegation, Politico reports. The USDA says the signed letters are not a violation of the Hatch Act, the federal law that bars executive branch employees from participating in some political activity.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms handed out endorsements to two Democrats running for the U.S. Senate: Jon Ossoff in his contest with Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue, plus Raphael Warnock in the 21-candidate special election to fill the final two years of the term of retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.
  • In that same special election, state House Majority Leader Jon Burns has joined about four dozen other state legislators in supporting Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, picking him over a fellow Republican, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
  • John-Miles Lewis, the only child of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis has endorsed former Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall in the Dec. 1 runoff election to name his father’s successor. He is urging the other candidate in the race, Robert Franklin, to step aside and allow Hall to be sworn in right away. But it doesn’t appear that state law would allow that. The winner of the runoff will only serve until the new Congress begins its session in early January.
  • Six former Democratic candidates for president have thrown their support behind state Sen. Nikema Williams in November’s election for a full two-year term in the 5th Congressional District starting in January. They are U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, now the party’s vice presidential nominee; U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro; former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and author Marianne Williamson.
  • The Georgia Association of Educators, the state’s second-largest advocacy group for teachers, is backing Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 7th Congressional District race.