Top Georgia Democrats build financial edge over Republicans

Georgia Democrats have built an enormous fundraising advantage over their Republican rivals in the state’s marquee political races.

In just two months, Democrat Stacey Abrams amassed $9.2 million, outdoing both Gov. Brian Kemp and his Republican rival, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue. She collected nearly $2 million more in that span than Kemp did over a six-month period. Perdue has tallied only about $1 million since entering the race in December.

And Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock raised $9.8 million in the final three months of 2021, making him the nation’s top Senate fundraiser for the second quarter in a row. He easily outdid Herschel Walker, his top Republican rival, whose $5.4 million haul was the most of any GOP Senate challenger in the nation.

Democratic candidates raised more money than their Republican rivals in top races in 2018 and 2020, too. But Democrats are flipping the script by building a financial edge at a stage in the race when Republicans usually dominate.

Case in point: At this phase in the race for governor during the 2018 election, Republican contenders reported collecting roughly $10 million more than Abrams and her Democratic rival, Stacey Evans.

And by January 2014, then-Gov. Nathan Deal had built a $6.5 million fundraising edge over his Democratic challenger, Jason Carter, a state senator and attorney who had entered the race a few months earlier.

The financial fortunes of Democrats also reflect the rising prominence of the candidates at the top of the ticket.

Warnock is now a bona fide fundraising dynamo, and the $23 million he has in cash on hand is nearly as much as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — the national fundraising arm for Senate Democrats — reported in its account.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

And Abrams continued a torrid fundraising streak. The Fair Fight Action political organization she launched after she lost the 2018 race has raised more than $100 million over three years. Her second bid for governor picked right up where it left off, tapping more than 100,000 donors.

“The grassroots money Leader Abrams and Senator Warnock are raising only flows in faster as the election nears,” said Jake Orvis, a veteran Democratic strategist. “Unfortunately for Kemp, Perdue and Walker, any mistake they make over the next several months will be on full display as voting begins.”

The surge of Democratic donations for top Georgia races runs counter to a national trend. Republican-backed groups ended 2021 with more money than Democratic rivals, according to a Washington Post analysis, as donors rush to help the GOP win back control of Congress.

Georgia Democrats honed their financial edge despite a new law that lets Kemp and other leaders raise unlimited campaign contributions through special leadership committees, which the governor has already leveraged to stockpile $2.3 million.

A federal judge this week barred Kemp from using the money in the GOP’s May primary but allowed him to spend the cash in other races.

Candidates look outside state for funds

The crush of spending means 2022 is all but certain to be the most expensive midterm election in state history, on pace to surpass the more than $100 million spent four years ago on the gubernatorial contest.

Still, it should fall short of the spending in the 2020 cycle, when nearly $1 billion was spent on Georgia contests, including the pair of runoff elections swept by Democrats that wound up being the most expensive Senate races in U.S. history.

Warnock’s campaign was boosted by about 130,000 donors whose average contribution was $43. Walker, by contrast, tapped about 44,000 contributors, who averaged roughly $122 per contribution.

Both Warnock and Abrams are increasingly relying on out-of-state money to fill their coffers.

Warnock has raised about 90% of his money from donors outside of Georgia, amassing more donations from supporters in New York than Atlanta, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Some $4.1 million of Abrams’ fundraising haul came from contributions of $1,000 or more. Of those, about 80% came from outside Georgia, with California accounting for at least $1 million in donations.

But Republicans, too, have increasingly leaned on non-Georgia donors and created a “50-state strategy” for fundraising in the past cycle. Out-of-state donors accounted for more than half of Walker’s itemized donations in his first fundraising report, reflecting what his aides said is a new political norm.

“Since we declared our candidacy in August, we’ve been sounding the alarm every chance we get that our Democrat opponent is likely to outraise us,” Walker’s campaign said in a note to donors Monday. “But we guarantee you this — our opponent is never going to outwork us.”

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The glut of donations hasn’t stopped at the top of the ticket. Candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state combined to raise millions of dollars, with some posting seven-figure hauls.

Republicans aren’t worried about keeping the spigots open.

“Georgia is a bellwether state. The marquee races will not suffer for resources from the donor class,” said Jay Morgan, a former Georgia GOP executive director who is now a lobbyist. “Everyone wants part of the action here.”

Staff writer James Salzer contributed to this article.