With control of the Senate and the scope of a potential Biden administration in the balance, all eyes are on Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoff elections.
Also at stake: whether Georgia, long a Republican stronghold, may be on the road to swing state status, particularly after Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992 to carry the state.
Partisans on both sides are spending big to find out.
At the state’s most influential television station, Atlanta’s WSB, an ad that cost candidates $8,000 in July now goes for about $18,000. In Savannah, ad rates have soared nearly twentyfold.
The competitions kicked off after Georgia’s two Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, failed to win more than 50 percent of the vote on Election Day.
Perdue is seeking reelection against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, while Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat, is looking to complete the term of the retired Sen. Johnny Isakson, running against Democrat Raphael Warnock.
If Republicans win one race, they will maintain a narrow majority, and the chamber will serve as a bulwark against Democratic ambitions.
But if Democrats carry both, the balance will be 50-50 — with presumptive vice president-elect Kamala Harris delivering tie-breaking votes.
“Everyone is aware of the stakes of these two seats,” said Bradley Beychok, the president of American Bridge, a major Democratic group that has pledged to spend millions reaching out to rural voters.
Do you think Sens. Perdue and Loeffler will both win?
“There’s a narrative that Democrats have an uphill battle, but we just won Georgia and we’re ready to go fight.”
As both parties shovel resources into the state, some speculate that the cost of the contest could approach $500 million.
Already, $329 million in advertising has been spent or reserved in the state since Election Day, according to data from the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.
Campaign finance disclosures made public on Thursday suggest Republican groups have a fundraising advantage.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has formed a joint fundraising operation with the two candidates led by longtime Republican operative Karl Rove, reported raising $75.5 million since Oct. 15.
Its counterpart, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, raised $31.6 million during the same period.
Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, reported raising $71 million since Election Day, compared with $10.2 million raised by Senate Majority PAC, its Democratic rival.
The candidates won’t have to make campaign finances public until Dec. 24.
“Money isn’t everything, but fundraising is an early leading indicator of enthusiasm,” Steven Law, president of Senate Leadership Fund, said during an appearance on Fox News on Thursday.
“Republican voters in Georgia understand that everything is at stake. The Trump legacy, the future of freedom, the future of socialism, and right now they seem very energized to vote.”
Much of the money raised by the group came from Republican big-money donors, including $15 million from Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the private equity firm Blackstone; $10 million from Kenneth Griffin, the CEO of the hedge fund Citadel; and $5 million from Steve Wynn, the former head of Wynn Resorts.
Of course, lucrative fundraising is no guarantee of victory.
Record-setting hauls for Democratic Senate hopefuls in the fall ended in disappointment for candidates like Jaime Harrison of South Carolina, MJ Hegar of Texas and Steve Bullock of Montana.
While Biden’s campaign ran operations in Georgia until the Nov. 3 election, Senate Democrats’ campaign arm is in charge now. Their efforts include door-to-door canvassing — a difference from the fall, when the Biden campaign discouraged Democrats from in-person canvassing.
Among the most high-profile movers on the left is the Fair Fight organization, which voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams organized after her loss in the 2018 Georgia governor’s race. Abrams’ group on Thursday reported raising $34.5 million between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23.
Another group, called Really American PAC, has raised over $593,000 and hopes to put up 50 billboards in rural counties urging Trump supporters to sit out the election.
The group says twelve billboards have gone up so far, which state: “Perdue/Loeffler Didn’t Deliver For Trump, DON’T Deliver For Them.”