- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Eye-popping sums of money are being spent in Georgia campaigns this year with both Senate seats up for grabs and Democrats eyeing a chance to flip a longtime conservative seat in the Deep South.

The money is pouring in from all directions, including party organizations, out of state donors and the candidates’ own wallets. The deluge so far tops $135 million in combined spending, according to recent calculations by Georgia political analysts.

Rick Dent, a veteran Georgia consultant who is tracking the race for out-of-state clients, said the total is growing faster than they can count it.

“That’s only radio and television advertising we’re following there. It doesn’t count other spending that might be going on with direct mail, polling and other things,” he said.

The race that accounts for the majority of the spending — more than $98 million — is the showdown between incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, an investigative journalist and former congressional candidate.

The other top-dollar race is a special election for the remainder of the term in the junior Senate seat, which has accounted for roughly $37 million in spending. It pits appointed incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Republican Rep. Doug Collins and several Democrats including the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Matt Lieberman, who is the son of 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman.

Mr. Dent’s analysis shows Ms. Loeffler outspending Mr. Collins by a 16-to-1 ratio. Personally wealthy and married to the chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange, Ms. Loeffler vowed to spend at least $20 million of her fortune on the race and she appears certain to meet her pledge.

For now, Ms. Loeffler has a 4-point lead in the Real Clear Politics polling average.

“There is just a crazy, insane amount of money being spent, and she still can’t quite get it done,” said Collins campaign spokesman Dan McLagan.

The tsunami of political money in the Georgia races has not yet swayed voters. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll this week had the two races dead even.

The Cook Political Report rates Mr. Perdue’s race a toss-up and the special election as “leans Republican,” while the Center for Politics has Mr. Perdue in a “lean Republican” and Ms. Loeffler in “likely Republican” categories.

“At this point, it is better than even money that both races go to Jan. 5 runoffs,” said Charlie Cook, publisher of his eponymous political report.

The races are close, in part, because demographics are shifting in Georgia to favor more liberal candidates who have put the state’s traditionally conservative political class on defense.

Democrats accuse both Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler of enriching themselves with stock trades made on information gleaned in closed-door briefings earlier this year that allegedly warned them of the massive hit COVID-19 would give markets.

Mr. Perdue has been cleared of wrongdoing by Senate colleagues and regulators, and he did not attend the February briefing that critics alleged triggered the trading activity by lawmakers.

Ms. Loeffler did attend the meeting but has denied any wrongdoing. No senator from either party has been cited with any ethics or legal violations connected to the trading.

Nonetheless, those fortuitous trades have become an issue in an election that already presented a bitter interparty fight between Ms. Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat last January by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, and Mr. Collins, a conservative who is a favorite of President Trump.

Ms. Loeffler, owner of Atlanta’s WNBA franchise and thus mired in social justice demonstrations, has been striving to cement her conservative credentials.

“From the day she was appointed she has said who she is: pro-Trump, pro-Wall, pro-Second Amendment, pro-life and that’s exactly what she’s done,” campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson said, citing a recent report from the conservative Heritage Action that gave her voting record a perfect 100 score.

Mr. Trump is believed to favor Mr. Collins, whom he wanted the governor to appoint last January. But Ms. Loeffler’s deep pockets were reportedly another attraction for Mr. Kemp, who will be running for reelection in 2022. Ms. Loeffler occupies the seat vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson, and it will be run again for a full six-year term that year, which would let Mr. Kemp’s campaign piggyback on Ms. Loeffler’s.

The GOP division creates a real opportunity for a Democratic candidate to force a runoff which would mean that race is not settled until 2021 — and could nationalize the race with control of the Senate being a plausible stake.

The betting favorite to benefit from the split GOP vote is Mr. Warnock, who leads Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He’s jockeying with two other Democrats, Mr. Lieberman and former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver.

Mr. Warnock has had a $7 million advertising blitz on Georgia television in recent weeks that has helped separate him from the Democratic pack.

The money mania hasn’t scared away Mr. Ossoff. He’s used to it. Mr. Ossoff lost the most expensive House race in history in the 2017 special election in Georgia.

His campaign has now spent at least $35 million on the Senate bid three years after his House run cost some $30 million.

The Perdue campaign has gotten a tremendous boost from outside GOP groups, Mr. Dent’s figures show. It has created an unusual situation in which spending by out-of-state groups have brought in more money than the incumbent’s fundraising machine, which Mr. Dent said is an inverse of the usual ratio.

For example, his tracking shows a handful of conservative PACs along with the Senate Leadership Fund, affiliated with Republican Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, have spent nearly $50 million on Mr. Perdue’s reelection bid.

The total exceeds spending by liberal PACs on Mr. Ossoff’s behalf. The Senate Majority PAC, Duty and Honor PAC, Majority Forward and other Democratic-aligned groups have spent roughly $30 million.

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