A new reality: Georgia Democrats keep money advantage over GOP

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Stacey Abrams greet each other at a 2020 event.

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U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Stacey Abrams greet each other at a 2020 event.

Long before Stacey Abrams released her financial figures, Republicans ensured key supporters knew she would raise more campaign cash than Gov. Brian Kemp. The biggest question with U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s latest haul was whether he’d top his last record-breaking report.

After years of political exile, leading state Democrats now routinely outraise their Republican adversaries — even incumbents who can leverage powerful offices for campaign cash. That gives Democrats an enormous financial advantage in the state’s top contests.

Financial disclosures released within the past week reinforce views of the new political landscape. With the most expensive midterm election in Georgia history underway, top Democrats are racing to expand their extensive donor networks in hopes of overcoming a tough political climate.

One of the Senate’s premier fundraisers, Warnock raised $17.2 million between April and June, more than twice the $6.2 million Republican nominee Herschel Walker collected. That followed Warnock’s haul of more than $13.6 million from January through March, a record for any Senate candidate in the first quarter of an election year.

And with $22.2 million in cash on hand, Warnock has more than three times as much money in the bank as his GOP rival.

Abrams amassed more than $22 million over a two-month span and ended with $18.5 million in her campaign accounts. That’s about $11 million more than Kemp reported in his coffers despite the governor’s head start.

Democratic challengers also flexed their financial muscle in key down-ticket races. State Rep. Bee Nguyen outraised Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger between May 1 and June 30, while state Sen. Jen Jordan collected more cash than Attorney General Chris Carr.

It’s a far cry from previous campaign cycles when Republicans seemed destined to outdo Democrats in the never-ending race for cash. Not that the GOP candidates will be pining for resources.

In all, both parties have spent or booked a combined $225 million worth of media buys through November, veteran strategist Rick Dent said.

“Both sides and their affiliated PACs and special-interest groups have all the money in the world to convince voters why their candidates are the best and why their opponents are the very worst,” he said. “If Republicans lose this year, it won’t be because of a lack of money.”

‘All the money’

The top candidates are spending the cash almost as quickly as they can raise it, a spree that reflects both Georgia’s hypercompetitive political dynamic and a confidence that the financial spigots won’t soon turn off.

The role of newly created leadership committees has also altered the fundraising landscape in key state races. The funding vehicles, which allow candidates to raise unlimited contributions, were approved by GOP lawmakers to help Kemp win a second term.

But Abrams and her allies have used the leadership committees to turn the tables on Republicans. Democratic-aligned groups have raised $18.8 million, mostly through Abrams’ organization. By contrast, five GOP leadership committees have collected about $8.7 million.

It’s only the latest phase of the money race. Abrams’ campaign is pumping donors for more resources, warning supporters that Kemp holds an advantage as an incumbent in a political climate dominated by concerns about economic uncertainty.

And Warnock has already poured at least $16 million into media buys to stave off Walker, whose campaign stumbles have raised new questions about his viability.

Still, all the spending from the campaigns can eventually balance out, said Dent, who specializes in media strategy. And no top-tier candidate in Georgia will be able to claim poverty.

“If your side is running negative TV ads six months before an election — and they are — then you have all the money you’ll ever need.”