Georgians get Scrooged by campaign ads

Even for Santa, there’s nowhere to hide
A screengrab reveals U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue portrayed as Grinch-like figures in a Christmas-themed attack ad from the liberal PAC Meidas Touch. Georgia is besieged with hard-hitting political ads this holiday season as the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs near. (screengrab)

Credit: Screengrab

Credit: Screengrab

A screengrab reveals U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue portrayed as Grinch-like figures in a Christmas-themed attack ad from the liberal PAC Meidas Touch. Georgia is besieged with hard-hitting political ads this holiday season as the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs near. (screengrab)

‘Tis the season to be jolly. Unless you’re a Georgia voter, and then it’s hunting season for your time and attention, people.

From YouTube to Tinder, from mailboxes to inboxes and even your child’s favorite Christmas movie, there’s nowhere to hide for a nice Georgian trying to get away from it all, especially if “it all” includes the carpet-bombing campaign ads from Democrats and Republicans heading into the state’s crucial Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs.

“I landed and I’m just bombarded with ads,” said Brady Cohen, a student at the University of Arkansas, whose phone lit up four days ago when he crossed the state line for winter vacation.

“They’re everywhere,” said Cohen, who sees ads on Instagram, Tinder and YouTube videos about football.

“Everywhere” isn’t the technical term for the level of saturation Georgians are experiencing from campaign outreach, but it may as well be.

Rick Dent, a veteran media strategist, said television ad spending alone has already topped $460 million and will likely reach $500 million in the 63-day sprint.

And it’s not just ads from the four Senate campaigns, but a crush of third-party players who are jockeying for airtime to tell Georgians what to think before election day.

In the past week alone, there have been 73 television ads in the state about the Senate runoffs.

“It’s just overkill,” Dent said. “One after another after another after another; I think a lot of it is wasted money.”

For your average Georgian, living in the middle of an air war means an overwhelming amount of incoming messages, many of them dark and scary, at a time most would rather be making the yuletide gay.

That often means upward of eight campaign ads in a local newscast, frequently back to back, along with the usual suspects of CNN, MSNBC and the Fox News Channel.

But to get in front of more and different people, the cash-heavy campaigns have also gotten creative, including placing attack ads on everything from HGTV’s “House Hunters” to kids’ Christmas movies.

David Perdue’s campaign has spots on ACC basketball, while Raphael Warnock’s are on the Golf Channel and Hallmark movies.

“There’s only so much time to buy,” Dent said. “And now it’s the holidays, and here comes all this sludge into your living room.”

‘No one can be that awful’

Mary Lou Chine, a retired teacher from Milton who’s already voted for Republicans Kelly Loeffler and Perdue, said the tone of the ads recently — with two candidates accused of being radicals and two candidates accused of being crooks — is so ugly she literally covers her eyes to avoid them.

“They’re saying such vicious things about each other,” she said. “In my heart I just don’t believe any of it. No one can be that awful.”

Among the ads on the heaviest rotation this cycle is one from Jon Ossoff’s campaign about Perdue’s failure to stop the spread of COVID-19. “Thousands of Americans are dying a day,” he says darkly.

To watch television in Georgia these days is like watching a movie with four villains and no hero. Make that a Christmas movie.

During one week in December, Loeffler’s campaign ran ads on shows ranging from “Cuomo Prime Time” to “Fox & Friends.” But it also bought ads everywhere from the Food Network to AMC, which is running a Christmas movie marathon.

That means anyone watching “Rudolph and Frosty,” “Elf,” “Frosty the Snowman” or “Frosty’s Winter Wonderland” also saw a Loeffler ad about “radical Raphael Warnock.”

And they might even see an ad from the liberal PAC Meidas Touch, accusing Loeffler and Perdue of being “Grinches” themselves.

“I won’t let my kids watch any of it,” said Kelli Springer, a Republican in north Fulton County who said she’s mostly turned off the TV to avoid ads from the campaigns.

And if the latest ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee seems like one that might finally be embracing the season with “Silent Night” playing as snowflakes fall on a field of black, keep watching. The ad keeps going, telling Georgians about “amnesty for illegals, defunding the police and massive tax hikes” and all of the other calamities they can expect if they pick wrong at the polls.

‘Not even Santa will be safe’

Unfortunately for everyone involved, turning off the television doesn’t mean turning off the ads, especially for parents watching with children.

“I see a lot on the internet, a lot,” said Sunny Vitanov, a mom in Muscogee County. “Especially if I’m just trying to listen to music on YouTube with my kids, there’s always one coming up.”

Google “kids baking” in Atlanta and you’ll get a YouTube video with “Treats to eat while waiting for Santa.”

But between making reindeer trail mix and a gingerbread house, the kids will hear a Loeffler ad about “radical Raphael Warnock” featuring footage of him in his pulpit.

“Somebody’s got to open up the jails and let our children go!” he says. “Nobody can serve God and the military.”

A Warnock pop-up ad comes after Rudolph sugar cookies, warning that Loeffler got rich off the pandemic. “Kelly’s for Kelly,” a woman’s voice says. “Warnock is for us.”

Even a trip to the mailbox in Georgia brings back more pricey mailers than holiday cards. And it’s bad news for Santa most days.

“Not even Santa will be safe if Warnock and Ossoff win in Georgia,” a glossy GOP mailer warns next to a photo of Santa crying into his white gloves.

“If you think ugly Christmas sweaters are bad,” another says, “wait until you see what complete Democrat control looks like.”

And if mailboxes are stuffed, inboxes are worse, with nearly two dozen separate campaigns supporting the Democrats, such as Fair Fight Action and Black Lives Matter PAC, buzzing voters’ phones with text messages night and day.

“Have you voted yet?” they want to know.

At least one candidate so far gets credit for a truly in-the-season ad that won’t make you hide the children and it’s Warnock, who checks off his his Christmas list to remind people to make voting a part of their holiday plans.

But if weary Georgians are looking for peace on the rest of the airwaves along with peace on earth, they might have to wait until next year.

With the runoffs less than two weeks away and control of the Senate on the line, they’re finding out the hard way that campaigns don’t take holiday vacations, and neither do their efforts to get voters to the polls.

Staff writer Tamar Hallerman contributed to this article.