The Jolt: 2022 Georgia campaign ads go negative early

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
An ad featuring Herschel Walker from U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock's campaign.

Credit: Patricia Murphy

Credit: Patricia Murphy

An ad featuring Herschel Walker from U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock's campaign.

Wondering what the November election will look like? Look no further than the torrent of spending in what will surely be the most expensive midterm in Georgia history.

Advertising guru Rick Dent ran the numbers. His main takeaway is that Georgians are seeing mostly negative ads – in June, a time usually reserved for soft-focus positive spots.

Dent’s analysis shows that most of the ads running in the U.S. Senate race right now are biting negative spots, including $1.2 million from Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock’s campaign this week replaying Republican nominee Herschel Walker’s claim in 2020 that he had a mist that would “kill any COVID on your body, EPA-FDA approved.”

Likewise, Walker’s first post-primary campaign spot attacked Warnock as working with Democrats too much.

A recent exception is a positive spot from the senator’s campaign this week that quickly went viral, showing the Democrat getting tackled on the football field by a small child, but thriving as a member of the Senate. “This campaign is about who’s ready to represent Georgia,” he says.

GOP outside groups are filling the airwaves with attacks tying Warnock to President Joe Biden, whose sagging approval ratings could weigh the candidates down like an anchor. And Warnock just laid out a $5.2 million ad buy – most for cable in September.

The governor’s race is featuring comparatively tepid spending so far. Gov. Brian Kemp put at least $470,000 behind the negative spot attacking Stacey Abrams’ comment about Georgia being the “worst” state to live in.

But Abrams outspent Kemp by a roughly 2-1 margin this week, according to Dent’s analysis, with $380,000 for a pair of positive ads about her background and $560,000 through her One Georgia leadership PAC attacking Kemp’s stance on guns, abortion and taxes.


GONE MISSING: Where is Kwanza Hall? The Democratic contender for lieutenant governor appears to be taking a do-no-harm – or do-nothing-in-public – campaign approach ahead of the June 21 runoff against Charlie Bailey.

Hall never responded to the Atlanta Press Club’s invitation to debate last week, and refused to answer repeated questions from your Insiders about why he was skipping the event.

As far as we can tell, he has done just one public event since the May 24 primary – and he refused to answer our questions about his schedule, too. It’s odd for a candidate who, as one Democratic ally of Hall told us, typically appears at the “opening of an envelope.”

We can only assume he’s trying to avoid sharp questions from Bailey on issues including a 2018 AJC investigation that revealed that Hall was being paid as a senior adviser to then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms while he was also working for the city’s economic development agency.

Bailey, who finished a distant second to Hall in the May primary, has taken the opposite approach with a busy campaign schedule. He also boasts the endorsement of Stacey Abrams, though it’s unclear how much of her political capital she’ll use to support his campaign.


SINNERS AND LOSERS. The Democratic frontrunner for secretary of state is questioning why Republican incumbent Brad Raffensperger still has a former Donald Trump operative on the payroll after The Washington Post and CNN revealed he was involved in the GOP fake elector scheme.

Raffensperger’s aides said Robert Sinners plans to remain as the office’s director of constituent services after details of his communiques emerged, with Sinners urging the phony electors to maintain “complete secrecy and discretion” as they gathered at the Capitol in December.

State Rep. Bee Nguyen, one of two Democrats in the June 21 runoff to compete against Raffensperger, was critical of those plans.

“As a Georgia lawmaker who faced death threats from folks trying to overturn the will of the people in November, it’s hard to trust the judgment of an individual who played a hand in subverting our democracy,” she said.

Raffensperger’s office declined to comment.


PRIME TIME. Tonight is the highly anticipated inaugural public hearing for the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Georgia will play a big part in the six public hearings ahead, the AJC’s David Wickert writes with one of your Insiders, as the committee attempts to make the case that not only was the riot fueled by President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election, but that he played an active role in making it happen.

One of the two people testifying tonight is a Capitol Police officer, who is an Atlanta native. Several Georgia political figures have also been asked to appear at future meetings, including former U.S. Attorney Byung “BJay” Pak.

Wednesday night, the AJC’s Tamar Hallerman scooped that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his top deputy Gabe Sterling are also expected to testify later this month.


MORE ON GUNS. Members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, including three Georgians, heard emotional testimony Wednesday from a fourth-grader who survived the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and a couple whose daughter did not.

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice also introduced 10th District resident Lucretia Hughes, whose son was killed while he was playing dominoes with friends. His killer was a convicted felon, legally barred from carrying a gun.

Since laws didn’t stop her son’s killer, Hughes said committee members are “delusional” if they think new gun laws will change anything.

U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, whose campaign yard signs feature an AR-15, spoke against gun restrictions. U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, disagreed. “What about the right to live of the 19 children and two teachers killed in Uvalde?” Johnson said.

Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney also said she has launched an investigation into five U.S. gun makers, including Bryan County-based Daniel Defense.

“We need to know why these communities are marketing military weapons to civilians and how much they are profiting from the death of our children.”


GUN VOTES. Even as that hearing continued, the U.S. House approved a slate of gun safety measures, including one raise the age to purchase assault weapons. The final vote was 223-204, with all but two Democrats in favor and all but five Republicans opposed.

Georgia’s delegation split along party lines.

A more narrow piece of the bill, a provision to require the U.S. Attorney General to issue a report annual gun sales data, including on the people who failed federal background checks, passed 380-47. All Georgia members were in favor.


MCBATH’S MOMENT. With gun control at the top of the agenda in Congress, Georgia’s U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath is in high demand.

She stood alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and prominent activists like former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at separate events Wednesday. Giffords was shot in the head by a constituent in Arizona in 2011.

Later today, the House will vote on McBath’s legislation to create a national “red flag” law. The bill would allow a judge to temporarily take away firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. The bill would also create incentives for states, like Georgia, that don’t currently have such laws on the books to implement them.


Today in Washington:

  • The U.S. House continues working through gun control legislation.
  • U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock chairs his first hearing of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade. University of Georgia agriculture Prof. Gopinath “Gopi” Munisamy and Karla Thompson, vice president of JET Farms in Camilla, are among the panelists for the hearing on trade issues challenging U.S. farmers.
  • President Joe Biden is still at the Summit of the Americas in California.


RECOUNT. A recount is underway to confirm which Democrats will head to a runoff in the race for the 10th Congressional District.

Third-place finisher Phyllis Hatcher requested the recount after she finished 137 votes behind Jessica Allison Fore for a spot in the June 21 runoff, the AJC’s Mark Niesse tells us.

Losing candidates are entitled to a recount in Georgia if the race was decided by less than half a percentage point, and Hatcher trailed Fore by 0.37%. Tabitha Johnson-Green led the field and has already secured a spot in the runoff.

All 37,000 Democratic Party ballots cast in the 10th District, a Republican-leaning region that covers 18 counties in east-central Georgia, must be rescanned. The recount should be completed by 5 p.m. on Friday, according to the secretary of state’s office.

The Republican primary is headed to a runoff between trucking company owner Mike Collins and former state Rep. Vernon Jones.

The winners of each party’s runoff will face off in the November general election.


In endorsement news:

  • The conservative Frontline Policy Action has endorsed Rich McCormick in the GOP 6th Congressional District runoff and Mike Collins in the 10th Congressional District contest.
  • The National Rifle Association is backing Vernon Jones in the Republican runoff in the 10th Congressional District.


DUNCAN-DICKENS DUO. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan isn’t fading into obscurity even as the clock ticks down on his role as the state’s No. 2 politician.

Duncan and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens traveled to California this week to try to encourage investment in the state. It ended with a visit to the RSA Conference in San Francisco, a premier event for cybersecurity officials.

“In almost four years, not only have we positioned Georgia as a regional leader in technological innovation, but we’ve set our state up to emerge as a global leader in this continuously evolving industry,” Duncan said.

Dickens was equally effusive about their tight alliance, which helped scuttle the legislative effort to split Atlanta into two separate cities.

“I appreciate the partnership of Lt. Governor Duncan and our business community to make our case for greater investment in Atlanta that brings equity and opportunity to all parts of our city.”


HONORING ISAKSON. Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has teamed up with Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, to introduce legislation to rename the Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Decatur after former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Last year, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock began a similar effort to rename the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Decatur after the late U.S. Sen. Max Cleland.

Isakson, who retired from politics in 2019 due to declining health, included reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs and providing healthcare for former members of the Armed Forces among his top priorities. Isakson died in December at the age of 76.

Ossoff’s legislation would rename the facility the Senator Johnny Isakson Department of Veterans Affairs Atlanta Regional Office.


HALF STAFF. If you saw flags on state buildings at half-staff Wednesday, it was in honor of former Georgia First Lady Betty Foy Sanders, who was laid to rest Wednesday.

Sanders was the wife of the late Democratic Gov. Carl Sanders.

Gov. Brian Kemp issued a state proclamation about the honor, writing that the former first lady, “Represented so much of what makes Georgia the greatest state in the country to call home.”


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