Georgia candidates set money records ahead of November election

Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams set a record in 2018 when they spent nearly $50 million combined in their hotly contested battle for governor.

Their 2022 rematch shattered that mark months ago.

Aided by a GOP-backed state law letting them raise as much money as they can from individual donors, Kemp — who narrowly won the 2018 contest — had collected about $65 million as of Sept. 30. His Democratic opponent, Abrams: about $85 million.

And the pair, along with U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, his Republican opponent Herschel Walker and other statewide candidates, still have tens of millions of dollars at the ready to inundate Georgians in the final month of the 2022 campaign with TV, radio and social media ads; signs; door knockers; text messages; and emails.

As a bonus, the race that may help decide which party runs the U.S. Senate, between Warnock and Walker, may wind up in a December runoff that will continue the campaign onslaught through Thanksgiving.

The latest filings this week by state candidates — with figures through the end of last month — show how much of a battleground Georgia has become since the closely contested Kemp-Abrams fight of 2018 and the Democratic victories in the presidential and U.S. Senate contests two years later.

Fundraising has been furious and constant.

“I have to imagine that average voters are exhausted by the incessant fundraising appeals, and I can see how knowing that there is so much cash out there makes it hard for donors to discern why there is such a raw urgency to so many of these appeals that arrive nonstop in their inboxes and their text messages,” said state Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a Smyrna Democrat.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

”At the same time,” Anulewicz said, “I also know that there are really excellent down-ballot candidates who genuinely need contributions who are frustrated that it seems like all the money is being donated to ultrahigh-profile candidates.”

‘Fatigue’

More than $310 million worth of TV and radio ads have already been booked or reserved in Georgia for the race for the Senate and governor, media analyst Rick Dent said. And millions more will be spent on new blitzes in the next month, though the impact is questionable, Republican strategist Heath Garrett said.

“Voters begin to fatigue, and advertising reaches a point of diminishing return,” he said. “Creativity, believability — it has to be true and believable — and more nuanced substantive messaging starts to be much more important.”

Abrams reported Friday that she collected more than $36 million over the latest three-month disclosure period. That’s nearly $9 million more than the Democrat raised during her entire 2018 campaign. Kemp earlier in the week reported nearly $29 million over the period, which was also more than he raised in 2018.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The pair were aided by having leadership committees, which Republicans in the General Assembly created last year to allow a few select candidates to raise unlimited contributions from donors.

Currently, candidates have a cap on how much they can raise from a single donor when they raise cash for their main campaign operations. Statewide candidates are currently allowed to raise $7,600 from individual donors for the primary and again for the general election.

There are no limits on leadership committees. Combined, Abrams and Kemp had raised almost $70 million through their leadership committee by Sept. 30.

For example, the Democratic Governors Association has contributed $5.35 million to Abrams’ leadership committee as of Sept. 30. A political action committee financed by Democratic megadonor George Soros gave an additional $3.6 million. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, gave $2 million Sept. 15.

Kemp’s committee received $7.5 million in the past few months from the Republican Governors Association and a $1 million donation from Miriam Adelson, wife of the late casino magnate and GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson.

Senate wave

The U.S. Senate candidates have kept up, too.

Warnock, the Democratic incumbent, continued a staggering fundraising pace by collecting $26.3 million in the latest three-month reporting period. HIs campaign said it will end the quarter with roughly $13.7 million in the bank for his reelection bid. Warnock has raised roughly $90 million in total.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Walker reported raising more than $12 million in campaign cash over the same period and said he had $7 million in cash on hand entering the final sprint to Election Day.

Kemp and Abrams said as of Sept. 30 they had about $26 million combined in the bank, And both will take in millions more in October.

As in the U.S. Senate race, the figures don’t include the tens of millions of dollars outside groups and PACs will spend in the next month on the races.

Some of the down-ballot state races have also seen big campaign takes, even from first-time statewide hopefuls.

Republican lieutenant governor nominee Burt Jones, a state senator, reported raising about $9.4 million in his campaign fund and leadership committee. Republican Insurance Commissioner John King, running his first race, reported raising $1.1 million so far. Jen Jordan, a Democratic state senator who is running for attorney general, has reported raising about $3 million to take on Republican incumbent Chris Carr.

State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said Georgians are going to have to get used to the mega-money campaigns.

“Candidates used to come through and just wave at us,” Williams said. “Now folks hang around here like Grant hung around Richmond.

“The world is looking at us, and like the 1996 Olympics we’ve got to look our best and dress accordingly.”