For Georgia runoff elections, conservative groups pour millions into make-or-break Senate contests

The Case For Republicans In Georgia vs. The Case For Democrats

For Georgia runoff elections, conservative groups pour millions into make-or-break Senate contests


The two Senate runoffs in Georgia are tighter than a 35-minute connection at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages as of 6 p.m. Eastern on Jan.

3, Democrat Jon Ossoff leads Republican Sen. David Perdue 49.2 percent to 47.4 percent in the regular Senate election, while Democrat Raphael Warnock leads Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler 49.5 percent to 47.

2 percent in the special Senate election.

[Latest Polls Of The Georgia Senate Runoff Elections]

And the two races have consistently been about that close since the first round of voting on Nov. 3. So at this point, we don’t really need more polls to tell us what we already know: These races could go either way.

In fact, between the polls, the fundraising numbers, the early-voting data and the November results, both parties can find reasons to be optimistic heading into election day tomorrow. So we thought we’d lay out the case for each side, high-school-debate style.

Nathaniel will outline all the reasons why Democrats are favored, and then Geoffrey will make the case for why Republicans will come out on top. Then, you be the judge as to which argument is more persuasive — let us know in the comments or on .

(And don’t forget to tune into our live blog on Tuesday night as well.)

Nathaniel: The case for Democrats

As mentioned, Ossoff and Warnock each lead in our polling average by about 2 percentage points. To be sure, those numbers still point to an election that could go either way, but if you had to choose a favorite them, you’d have to pick the Democrats.

I know polling had an off year in 2020, but the reality is that polls are still our best tool for forecasting elections, and it’s really hard, if not impossible, to predict which direction any polling error will run.

Plus, while it’s true that polling of the 2020 election overall wasn’t very accurate, polls of Georgia were actually pretty good: FiveThirtyEight’s final polling average of the presidential race in the Peach State was just 1 point off the final margin.

It’s not just the polling, though: The fundraising numbers look even better for Democrats. From Oct. 15 to Dec. 16, Ossoff raised $106.8 million and Warnock raised $103.4 million.

Not only is that more than Perdue’s $68.1 million and Loeffler’s $64.0 million, but it’s also more than any Senate candidate had ever raised in a single quarter before (and Oct. 15-Dec.

16 is only two months, not three!).

[Related: Where Are Georgia’s Senate Candidates Getting All That Cash From?]

True, when you factor in spending by outside groups, the money race is closer. Pro-Republican outside groups have spent $180.5 million on TV ads since Nov. 10, while pro-Democratic outside groups have spent just $63.1 million.

However, outside groups pay full freight for TV airtime, whereas TV stations are required to charge candidates their lowest rates. So even though pro-Republican forces (i.e.

, the campaigns and outside groups combined) have spent more on TV advertising than pro-Democratic forces, the Democratic side is actually airing more ads because they are getting better bang for their buck.

Early-voting data is also encouraging for Democrats, as it shows solid turnout among the Democratic base in Georgia: Black voters. According to, an unofficial vote-tracking website that uses publicly available data from the secretary of state, 31 percent of voters so far are Black.

That’s significant because that’s a much higher share than at this point in the general election (when the Black share of the electorate reached its lowest point since 2006, hurting Democrats in November but giving them ample room to grow in the runoff).

Now, that’s no guarantee that Black turnout will stay that high when all is said and done, but so far it looks Democrats are doing what they need to do in order to improve upon their November performance and win the runoffs.

Indeed, Georgia has changed; it’s not the stubbornly red state it once was. In November, Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Georgia since 1992. And while Republicans ran a hair ahead of Democrats in both Senate races in the general, that low Black voter turnout suggests Democrats underachieved their true potential.

Plus, our estimates suggest that, had the special election been a head-to-head matchup between Warnock and Loeffler, Warnock might have won.

According to our research into past runoffs, both the two-party margin and the margin between the top two finishers are predictive of runoff results, so it’s actually pretty promising for Democrats that Warnock finished 7 points ahead of Loeffler in November.

[What The Early Vote In Georgia Can — And Can’t — Tell Us]

And to counter an argument you’ll hear when Geoffrey takes the floor, there’s no guarantee Republicans will do better in the runoffs than they did in the general election. The factors that have hurt Democrats in past runoffs are arguably no longer true.

More people have voted in this runoff than any other runoff in Georgia history, making the general election a better comparison than past runoffs. Black voter turnout has generally decreased in past runoffs; this year, it looks it might increase.

The suburbs — which have historically punched above their weight in runoffs — have shed their ancestral Republicanism and now lean Democratic.

What’s more, President Trump’s refusal to concede the election could keep Democratic voters motivated, while his bogus claims that American elections are “rigged” could actually depress Republican turnout (why vote at all if your vote allegedly isn’t going to count?).

Basically, with this runoff having the unusual distinction of deciding control of the entire U.S. Senate, all precedents — which tend to favor Republicans — are out the window. Instead, we have a bunch of data that looks promising for Democrats.

Geoffrey: The case for Republicans

Republicans may be slightly behind in the polls, but we should be cautious about reading too much into these surveys as it’s hard to say the slim Democratic edge is all that meaningful. Polls have routinely disagreed over who is in the lead and nearly every survey has fallen within the margin of error.

What’s more, there just haven’t been that many high quality polls — just two of the 16 firms that have surveyed Georgia since November have a FiveThirtyEight pollster rating that is higher than a B. This is unfortunate, but not surprising given many pollsters are gun-shy after polling misses in November.

Simply put, a small polling error in the GOP’s direction wouldn’t be that surprising and furthermore, it would be enough to give Loeffler and Perdue the advantage.

Republicans also trail in fundraising, but here, too, it’s unclear whether Democrats really have an advantage.

First, both Loeffler and Perdue have still raised plenty of moolah, and studies find that in situations where both campaigns are well-funded and neither side has a real ad-buy advantage, their efforts tend to cancel each other out. Second, much of the money fueling these campaigns is from state.

This is true for the Republicans’ campaigns, but it’s especially true for the Democrats’, meaning the mountains of cash pouring in doesn’t tell us all that much about Georgia voter preferences.

As we saw in November, strong fundraising numbers for Democratic Senate nominees were largely a smoke screen — many fell short despite significantly outraising their GOP opponents. Granted, some of these races were in states far redder than Georgia, but this was also true in Maine, a state Biden carried, and North Carolina, a state Trump narrowly carried.

[Related: Split-Ticket Voters Are A Small Group, But They Could Decide The Georgia Runoffs]

True, Republicans don’t have a clear upper hand in the polls or fundraising game, but that might not tell as much about what will happen as the actual results from November. In both Senate contests, Republican contenders had a stronger down-ballot performance, meaning they have less ground to make up than the Democrats.

In the regular Senate election, Perdue led Ossoff by about 1.8 points and finished just 0.3 points shy of an outright majority, even as Trump lost to Biden by about 0.3 points at the top of the ticket.

And in the special Senate election, in which multiple candidates from both parties ran, the aggregate Republican vote led the aggregate Democratic vote by 1 point.

And perhaps most importantly, Republican Senate candidates did slightly better than Trump in the Atlanta metropolitan area, helped by split-ticket voters in affluent and predominantly white communities such as Buckhead in north Atlanta. Provided these voters stick with the GOP tomorrow, that could be enough for Loeffler and Perdue to carry the day.

The early vote numbers hold some promise for the GOP, too. While the increase in the share of Black voters is an auspicious sign for Democrats, there are signs the runoff electorate will be older, which may be promising for Republicans as older voters are more ly to identify as Republican. Voters 56 and older have already cast 52.

1 percent of early and absentee ballots in the runoff, according to data from the U.S. Elections Project, up from 45.5 percent in the general election. Now, it’s impossible to know in advance whether an older electorate will, in fact, prove more Republican-leaning.

The New York Times’s Upshot found in November, for instance, that areas with high concentrations of older Georgia voters moved slightly to the left from 2016.

Nonetheless, a stronger performance among early voters for the GOP would probably be all she wrote — especially considering early and absentee voters cast 80 percent of all votes in November and the in-person Election Day vote is ly to lean heavily Republican; Trump won these voters by 22 points in November.

[Why A Split Verdict In Georgia Isn’t That Crazy]

Lastly, while Nathaniel poo-pooed it, the GOP does have a history of doing better in runoffs than the Democrats.

Outside of one 1998 runoff for a seat on the state’s public service commission, Republicans have always gained at least a little ground in the runoff compared to the general election.

True, we only have a sample size of eight, but some of the factors that contributed to Republican runoff success in the past could still come into play, an older electorate. And remember, if the Republicans improve on their November showing — or even just hold serve — they win.

There are some pretty good arguments on both sides, if we do say so ourselves! In fact, it’s entirely possible that we’ll both be proven right.

Partisanship will ensure that almost all voters vote a straight Democratic (Ossoff and Warnock) or Republican (Perdue and Loeffler) ticket, but as the slightly different polling averages suggest, there are probably a handful of Perdue-Warnock (or Ossoff-Loeffler) voters out there. And if the races are super close — and by all accounts, they will be — a split outcome isn’t the question. (Of course, that would qualify as a loss for Democrats, given that they need to win both seats in order to achieve a 50-50 split in the Senate, which would then grant them control of the chamber thanks to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.)

We’ll find out on Tuesday night — maybe. Although Georgia counted the vast majority (upward of 90 percent) of its votes on election night, a close race would take a few more days to resolve.

Indeed, that is exactly what happened in the general election. No matter what, we’ll be live-blogging it all from start to finish, so be sure to join us back here on Tuesday evening. Polls close at 7 p.m.


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Georgia Runoff Already Most Expensive Senate Race in History

For Georgia runoff elections, conservative groups pour millions into make-or-break Senate contests

(TNS) — With every other vote now counted, and next year's balance of Washington power still in limbo, the wallets of the nation's politically active businesses, advocacy groups and people have opened wide over Georgia.

Next month's paired runoffs will decide partisan control of the Senate, and thereby the limits of President-elect Joe Biden's mandate. So it's little surprise that in the past six weeks they've combined to become the most expensive congressional election in American history.

Nonetheless, the numbers are staggering — and made even more so by the speed at which hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into the state: baskets of checks to the candidates from millionaires, buckets of cash poured in by corporations and advocacy groups, waves of small-dollar online donations, open-ended commitments from the political parties and untold millions more in secretive spending by “dark money” groups.

Days before Georgians have their say, in other words, their state has already become Exhibit A for the excesses and potential abuses of a wide-open and minimally regulated campaign finance system.

And all good-government groups can do is watch, hoping this case study someday helps their aspirations for corralling money's sway over politics.

 Between the candidates' own advertising buys and outlays by independent political groups, spending on the runoffs alone has already crested $370 million — significantly more than what was spent in any of the other 2020 Senate campaigns, which lasted two full years.

Nine of the 10 most expensive Senate races in history were this year, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, and even before the runoffs the Georgia contests would have combined to make the list with a $209 million spent.

“Voters across the political spectrum are sick and tired of the amount of money in politics and the way that wealthy donors have their voices heard louder than everybody else,” said Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center. “It's about time that politicians start to act on voters' wishes.”

The only chance of that happening in the next two years, though, is if both challengers are rewarded for their astronomically costly efforts.

Victories by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock on Jan. 5 would result in 50 Democratic senators in the new Congress — a bare majority, because they would have guaranteed tie-breaking help from the new vice president, Kamala Harris.

And along with their fellow Democrats still in charge in the House, that would mean the power to at least partly advance the Biden agenda, where democracy reforms have been promised but not yet raised to prominence.

Victories by either Republican incumbent, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, would mean a divided Congress with the Senate still under the control of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who rose to the leadership in the 1990s largely because his colleagues appreciated his dogged and largely successful efforts to kill campaign finance legislation.

Two weeks before the general Election Day, the last time the candidates had to provide detailed accountancy of their finances to a largely neutered Federal Election Commission, the four candidates had raised a combined $101 million — with documentary filmmaker Ossoff the leading recipient, at $33 million since his campaign began.

It's not clear just how much more they have raked in since, because their next FEC reports are not due before Christmas Eve. But the enormity of their hauls are partly revealed in reports already filed by the two parties' online fundraising platforms, ActBlue and WinRed.

The 24-hour drumbeat of email solicitations from ActBlue led Warnock, who is the pastor of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and would become the state's first Black senator, to collect $57 million in the first three weeks of the runoff, more than double his individual contribution total from the entirety of the campaign before Election Day. Ossoff raised $55 million in online donations in the same time, nearly double what people gave him before Nov. 3.

Perdue had collected $28 million through WinRed, swamping his $11 million in individual contributions for the general election.

But Loeffler, who had to fight for Republicans' money against her rival GOP Rep.

Doug Collins before the first round of voting, realized the biggest gain — a nearly ninefold surge in her haul from individuals by raising $27 million in the three weeks after making it to the runoff.

And the new totals do not reflect checks that have come in during November and December, which is generally how well-healed donors deliver their money.

The giving limit for a general election is $5,600; if there's a runoff, an individual can donate $2,800 more.

(The second rounds are required because Georgia requires statewide winners to receive more than 50 percent of the vote, which happened in neither Senate race Nov. 3.)

The candidates are hardly acting in a vacuum. Party committees, special interests and other organizations have already poured $143 million into the runoff — on top of the $128 million they spent before November.

As in almost all congressional contests with such enormous national consequences, most of the money is coming from groups outside the state.

And, if past is prologue, tens of millions more will arrive in the final weeks.

Securities and investment businesses, real estate enterprises, the insurance business and law firms have been the most heavily invested in Loeffler and Perdue — contributing a combined $5 million.

The law and Wall Street sectors have also given the most to Ossoff and Warnock, and along with the worlds of education, health care and government employee unions the combined total tops $11 million.

So-called super PACs, political action committees permitted to raise and spend unlimited amounts to sway elections so long as they disclose their donors, have also been spending big.

The Senate Leadership Fund, McConnell's main political arm, has allocated $68 million to the re-elections of his two colleagues.

The Senate Majority PAC, the parallel organization of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, has spent $33 million to aid his would-be colleagues.

But it's not nearly so clear where much of the money has come from. The Center for Responsive Politics says almost $9 million, or 3 percent of the total spent independent of the candidates, has come from “dark money” groups that don't have to disclose the origins of their political giving. Most of these groups care less about specific industries than about ideology.

“It's the American people who will lose as a result of all this secret spending,” said Michael Beckel, the research director at Issue One, which advocates for more campaign finance regulation.

While outsiders have been spending on their own advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts, the coffers of the candidates have been getting tapped mainly to support an onslaught of ads — worth more than $227 million as of last week, according to AdImpact, a firm that tracks such spending. The vast majority has been allocated to blanketing the TV airwaves, even though research suggests more and more voters are paying most attention to the much-less-expensive ads they see online.

Both Google and had blocked political ads from their sites to tamp down on the spread of misinformation ahead of Nov. 3, with the presidential election at the forefront of their decision making. But the companies recently lifted their bans for the Georgia Senate runoffs, meaning candidates and outside groups can once again push their messaging on those platforms.

Spend Now, Reform Later

Wins by Ossoff and Warnock would not only give campaign finance bills at least a theoretical shot at consideration, but also mean the arrival at the Capitol of two more outspoken critics of the system they're for now relying on.

Both have pledged not to take money from corporate political action committees. It's a popular promise from Democratic congressional candidates, because it allows them to signal that their loyalty lies with voters and not wealthy special interests — but at a minimal cost, because there's so much other money available to them from ideological special interests on the left.

In high school, Ossoff interned for the late Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta, the iconic embodiment of voting and civil rights. Several of his investigative documentaries have sought to hold powerful institutions to account.

And Ossoff now has the distinction of being a candidate in both the most expensive Senate race and the most expensive House race of all time.

(More than $48 million was spent overall on a 2017 special election to fill a suburban Atlanta congressional seat, a contest he narrowly lost.)

“As long as money buys political influence, our government's policies will favor the most powerful special interests,” his campaign website says, and it says tighter money-in-politics rules are essential to restoring the nation's “prosperity and competitiveness.”

Warnock's democracy reform focus has been mainly about expanding access to the ballot box.

Through his church and as former chairman of the New Georgia Project, the voter registration campaign started by 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, he has worked to boost Black turnout and condemn perceived suppression efforts.

His campaign platform includes revitalizing the Voting Rights Act, expanding early in-person and vote-by-mail options and making Election Day a federal holiday.

The Republicans now stand as two of the richest members of the Senate, and neither has deviated from party's orthodoxies including opposition to new campaign finance regulations and any further federal control over election rules.

Perdue is seeking a second term after a career as a corporate turnaround artist with time as CEO of both Reebok and Dollar General. Loeffler, appointed last year when Republican Johnny Isakson resigned because of failing health, may be the wealthiest senator of all after amassing a financial services fortune estimated at $800 million. (She's already given her own campaign $23 million.)

Both have come under scrutiny for their stock trades, which suggested they may have benefited from insider knowledge afforded them as senators — of industries and potential shifts in government policies, especially related to the coronavirus pandemic. They have denied wrongdoing and the Justice Department has reportedly decided against prosecuting them.

Every Vote Will Matter

Polling suggests that both Perdue vs. Ossoff and Loeffler vs. Warnock are genuine tossups — so the winners will be from whichever side motivates more of its most passionate supporters to cast a ballot.

Biden claimed the state's 16 electoral votes by a margin of just 12,000 5 million votes cast in the fall, turning the state blue for president for the first time in 28 years, while Ossoff came within 88,000 votes (2 percentage points) of upsetting Perdue. The different rules for the special election for the other Senate seat drew 19 candidates from all parties. The top Republicans, Loeffler and Collins, got a combined 46 percent. Warnock and his two main Democratic opponents took 45 percent.

With absentee ballots pouring in and early voting having started, more than 914,000 people have already voted — including 24,000 who did not vote in the general election.

Turnout has not topped three-fifths of the general election number in any of the previous four Georgia runoffs since 1992, though, so it would be notable if more than 3 million ballots are cast overall.

If that is the total number of votes, then $123 has been spent — already — for every one of them.

©2020 The Fulcrum. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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