Outside spending on two Georgia U.S. House races nears $25 million

Georgia 6th District candidates (top from left) Karen Handel and Lucy McBath and 7th District candidates (bottom from left) Carolyn Bourdeaux and Rich McCormick.
Georgia 6th District candidates (top from left) Karen Handel and Lucy McBath and 7th District candidates (bottom from left) Carolyn Bourdeaux and Rich McCormick.

Political parties and special-interest groups have spent almost $25 million in hopes of swaying voters in two suburban Atlanta congressional districts.

That exceeds the expenditures of the individual campaigns of the four candidates in Georgia’s 6th and 7th congressional district contests.

The competitive nature of the races — the Republican Party eked out a narrow victory in the 7th in 2018 while Democrats took hold of the 6th in another close contest — has led to attention from national groups on both sides of the aisle.

In the 6th District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath is in a rematch with former Congresswoman Karen Handel, a Republican. In the open seat in the 7th, the contest is between Republican Rich McCormick and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux. Retiring GOP Congressman Rob Woodall decided not to seek another term.

Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie said the races are not only expected to be close again in 2020, but they will help indicate whether the Republican Party has lost its grip in areas that once were reliably conservative.

“These suburban districts are kind of the new frontlines in politics," she said, "especially with groups that are interested in either trying to preserve and grow a Democratic House majority or more Republican-leaning groups that are interested in trying to stem losses and maybe make a few gains in these places.”

Voters are on the receiving end of the TV commercials and digital ads when they scroll social media, text messages on their phones and pull out pieces of literature that land in their mailboxes. Much of this spending centers on attacking one of the candidates, as opposed to highlighting the record of the preferred nominee.

On Tuesday, Everytown for Gun Safety’s political arm and House Majority PAC, a group aligned with Democrats in Congress, announced $1.2 million in new ad spending. The latest spot criticizes McCormick, an emergency room physician, for supporting the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and making comments during the coronavirus pandemic that his critics say downplayed the severity of the illness.

“Georgia’s families want a member of Congress who will expand access to affordable health care and support a national strategy to address the COVID crisis, but Rich McCormick is simply out of step with voters in Georgia’s 7th District,” said Abby Curran Horrell, executive director of House Majority PAC.

McCormick campaign spokesman John Simpson said, "No one running for Congress has more experience helping people afflicted with COVID-19 than Dr. McCormick.”

McCormick’s team has said his statements on the coronavirus have been taken out of context. They point out that elected officials from both parties have evolved on how they talked about the virus as more research was done on its effects.

A political committee tied to Republican leaders in the U.S. House, the Congressional Leadership Fund, has spent $4.3 million on ads that question Bourdeaux’s fitness for the job. The spots blame Bourdeaux for recommending furloughs, funding cuts and fee increases while she served as the Georgia Senate’s budget chief during the Great Recession.

Bordeaux was a Senate employee, and all the decisions on furloughs, funding and fee increases were proposed and approved by a Republican governor and GOP lawmakers who ran the General Assembly at the time.

Federal Election Commission data shows that nearly half of the outside group spending comes from the political parties themselves.

The Democratic Party’s congressional campaign arm has spent the most money so far, roughly $7.9 million. Nearly all of it was used to produce ads attacking the records and platforms of Handel and McCormick.

House Majority PAC, a separate political committee controlled by Democratic leaders in the House, has spent an additional $3.5 million with the same intent.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent $1.8 million on ads putting a negative spin on McBath’s record. The party does not appear to have spent any money on the 7th District contest, although groups aligned with GOP leaders have.

McCormick also has received assistance from the conservative Club for Growth, FreedomWorks for America, the American College of Emergency Physicians and Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian group funded by the Koch brothers' fortune.

Americans for Prosperity has spent $255,000 this campaign cycle, mostly for digital ads and mailers supporting McCormick and playing up his credentials as an emergency room physician who wants to make health care more affordable. About a fourth of the group’s spending in this race was used to go negative on Bourdeaux, who is on leave from her job as a public policy professor at Georgia State University.

McCormick’s campaign said total ad spending on Bourdeaux’s behalf eclipses his: $8.7 million compared with $6.6 million. They say he has worked hard to build up name recognition against a candidate who has been on the ballot two cycles in a row while he was still working shifts in an Atlanta-area hospital.

“She has taken a leave of absence from Georgia State University to run for Congress for the last four years,” Simpson said. “Meanwhile, Dr. McCormick is an ER doctor during a pandemic, so he doesn’t have the luxury of taking a leave of absence from his job to run for Congress.”

Bourdeaux received help from the Congressional Black Caucus’ political committee and the Asian American Advocacy Fund PAC.

The support is a sign of excitement in a race that prognosticators say is the mostly likely district in the nation to flip from Republican to Democratic this year, Bourdeaux’s team said.

“As the top-ranked congressional race in the country, the energy and enthusiasm on the ground in the 7th District is palpable,” campaign manager Shelbi Dantic said. “And it’s clear that lots of folks are excited to invest in the future of Georgia.”

ExploreElection 2020: Georgia voter guide

Supporting Karen Handel

National Republican Congressional Committee, $1.8 million

Supporting Lucy McBath

Everytown for Gun Safety, $1.8 million

Black PAC, $205,779

National Education Association, $162,266

Humane Society Legislative Fund, $44,832

The Collective Super PAC, $7,692

Supporting Carolyn Bourdeaux

Planned Parenthood, $41,223

Asian American Advocacy Fund $1,021

Supporting Rich McCormick

Congressional Leadership Fund, $4.3 million

Club for Growth, $2.9 million

Americans For Prosperity Action, $255,247

House Freedom Fund, $191,954

SEAL PAC, $78,000

American College of Emergency Physicians, $30,000

Independent Women’s Voice, $11,681

FreedomWorks For America, $7,500

Supporting Bourdeaux and McBath

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $7.9 million

House Majority PAC, $3.5 million

WOMEN VOTE!, $524,292

Congressional Black Caucus PAC, $172,300

Supporting Handel and McCormick

National Right to Life Victory Fund, $982

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