Ad dollars for Georgia Senate runoff reach $125 million

The 2022 midterm elections were the longest and costliest on record. In October, Kantar/CMAG, which tracks campaign spending, estimated total political advertising would reach $9 billion, up from the $8.4 billion they had estimated in July. Another important race has yet to be decided in Georgia.

Because no candidate receives a majority of the votes, Georgia state law requires a runoff between the top two candidates. The runoff will be between incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock, a pastor, and Hershel Walker, a political novice and former football player. In the Warnock general election, a Democrat received 49.4% of the vote and Republican rival Walker 48.5% of the vote, a difference of 36,000 votes. Third candidate Chase Oliver received the remaining 2.1% of the votes.

With Georgia now a battleground state and a key U.S. Senate seat at stake, Steve Passwaiter, VP/Growth and Strategy and Senior Advisor to Kantar/CMAG, estimates another $125 million will be spent. During the general election, Warnock and Walker spent more than $200 million on political advertising, already making it the most expensive campaign of 2022. In addition, Raphael Warnock spent more advertising dollars nationally than any other candidate.

This is the second time Georgia has had a runoff election in the last two years, however, there are some differences from the 2020 runoff election. In 2020, Georgia held two runoff elections; Warnock defeated incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler and Jon Ossoff, a Democrat, defeated Republican incumbent David Perdue. With the victory of the two Democrats, the Senate split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the deciding vote for the Democrats. Also, the window between Election Day and the 2020 runoff was nine weeks, extending into January 2021. Steve Passwaiter estimated that $525 million was spent on political ads in the 2020 runoff.

Georgia, meanwhile, has passed a law mandating runoff elections within four weeks of the date of primary or general elections. Therefore, the runoff will take place on Tuesday, December 6th, exactly 28 days after Election Day. Early voting begins after Thanksgiving weekend on Monday, November 28th. This gives the candidates less time to gather their supporters.

This time, with the Democrats leading 50-49, the party will still control the Senate regardless of the outcome, but victory would still offer some benefits: Another chair in the committee seats, making it easier to pass legislation. It protects against a dissenting senator passing legislation. Another impetus for Democrats to get Warnock re-elected is the 2024 Senate Plan challenge. Democrats hold 21 of 34 Senate seats up for election this year, along with the two independent seats voting with Democrats. Also, some of these seats are in the “red” states of Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia.

Donations in the millions have already been received for the runoff election. Kantar/CMAG reports that as of November 17, over $25 million has been committed. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC associated with Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), is committing $14.2 million to the Walker campaign, with over $8 million already committed. Leading Democratic super PAC Georgia Honor, which is affiliated with the Senate-majority PAC, has already spent over $4 million on ads. Two candidates, Warner and Walker, have pledged $6.2 million and $2.5 million, respectively. There are a number of smaller Super PACs. Both candidates have also launched fundraisers for small donors.

In addition, the Walker campaign also reached an agreement to access Gov. Brian Kemp’s bulk database of get-out-the-vote machines. Kemp was recently re-elected with 53.4% ​​of the vote against Stacey Abrams.

Kantar/CMAG expects that the biggest beneficiaries of the runoff will once again be broadcasters, particularly in Atlanta, the state’s largest television market, which accounts for half of the state’s population. Cox-owned Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB has already booked over $4 million in advertising commitments and Fox-owned WAGA, also in Atlanta, has booked over $2 million.

Other stations already on the books for over $1.5 million include; Tegna’s WXIA (NBC affiliate in Atlanta), Tegna’s WMAZ (CBS affiliate in Macon) and Gray Television
WANF and WTOC (CBS affiliates in Atlanta and Savannah, respectively). Those station owners will see a significant cash hit in their fourth-quarter earnings report, just as they did two years ago.

With campaign funds flooding the state, Georgians are being swamped with political advertising. Carl Kotheimer, a retired advertising executive, says, “Here in Savannah, in just one two-hour local news block, I counted eight Walker commercials and ten Warnock commercials on the three major network partners – the money is still pouring in!”

One show that will get a lot of political ads is the University of Georgia football team. Over the next three weeks, the top-ranked Bulldogs play Kentucky (on CBS), Clean, Old Fashioned Hate with state rival Georgia Tech (on ESPN), and the Southeastern Conference Championship Game against LSU (on CBS). On the Saturday before Election Day, both candidates reportedly spent $100,000 each on two 30:30 ads in the Atlanta market as Georgia defeated then-leading Tennessee. Nationally, the game averaged more viewers on CBS than the final game of the World Series. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1980 as a running back for Georgia Herschel Walker.

The ubiquitous political messages and fundraisers are not limited to television either. Korin Mills, a workplace culture consultant in Atlanta, says, “I’d be pretty shocked if it turns out those relentless text ads actually make a difference in the outcome of the race. Maybe they generate money, but not from me so far. Perhaps harassment is technically effective over time, but it also degrades the candidate’s reputation over time. At least it does to me.”