WASHINGTON – Super PACs spent nearly $16 million more on Sen. Raphael Warnock than his Republican challenger Herschel Walker so far in the run-up to their high-stakes runoff election in Georgia on Tuesday.
Although Democrats kept their 50 seats in the Senate during this year's midterm races, Georgia's Senate runoff will determine if the upper chamber remains evenly split or if Democrats will have a 51-49 majority, potentially preventing Republicans from leading committees.
The Georgia Senate race is the most expensive race of the midterm season, according to OpenSecrets, an organization that tracks money in politics.
During the runoff election, super PACs have spent more than $40 million on expenses like advertisements supporting Warnock or opposing Walker, and more than $24 million supporting Walker or opposing Warnock, according to filings reported to the Federal Elections Commission through Thursday.
A super PAC is a political action committee that can receive unlimited funds from individuals, organizations, labor unions and other PACs to finance independent expenditures and other political activity.
Here are some takeaways from how the top super PACs are influencing the race:
When is the Georgia runoff election? The 2022 special senate election explained.
Why Georgia's Senate race matters: Georgia's runoff will determine if Senate is split 50-50 or 51-49. What's the difference?
Which super PACs are spending the most money?
Georgia Honor, a group affiliated with the Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC, spent the most amount of money during the runoff campaign. The group has spent more than $19 million in support of Warnock, according to the FEC. This week, Georgia Honor announced another $5.83 million in TV ads.
Majority Forward, another group affiliated with the Senate Majority PAC, is teaming up with the America Votes coalition to spend $11 million on door-to-door knocking, with a goal of knocking on 4 million doors during the runoff. In the days following the midterm election, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senate Democrats' fundraising arm, announced $7 million on direct voter outreach in Georgia.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC affiliated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dished out more than $15 million during the runoff on Walker's behalf.
The conservative advocacy group Americans For Prosperity Action used $4.5 million on the runoff. Bill Riggs, a spokesman for the group, said the group launched a seven-figure digital campaign, distributed more than 4.7 million pieces of mail, and knocked on nearly 500,000 doors since the runoff began.
A left-leaning PAC tied to American Bridge, a Democratic opposition research group, that gets some funding from billionaire Stephen Mandel, spent more than $4 million opposing Walker. Jessica Floyd, the group's president, called the organization "the largest opposition research and rapid response organization on the left."
What groups are giving the most money to oppose Walker and Warnock?
Three super PACs – Georgia Honor, American Bridge and VoteVets, a progressive veterans group – have spent more than $24.6 million in opposition to Walker.
Meanwhile, the Senate Leadership Fund, Americans for Prosperity Action, 34N22, a pro-Walker PAC, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent nearly $21.8 million in opposition to Warnock.
How is the money being spent?
The super PACs are mostly spending money on TV ads, digital and online communications and on-the-ground canvassing.
J.B. Poersch, president of the Senate Majority PAC, said much of the ad buys emphasize Walker's "disturbing conduct" because it's a motivating factor for voters. In a "Hurt So Many" ad from Georgia Honor, Walker's ex-wife describes him holding a gun to her head and his son Christian saying Walker "threatened to kill us." Walker has been accused of paying for the abortions of two ex-girlfriends, claims he denies. He has also been accused of repeatedly threatening his ex-wife’s life.
Floyd, from American Bridge, said the PAC spends money performing opposition research and then putting out advertisements, including in smaller communities outside the Atlanta area.
Jon Soltz, head of VoteVets, said the group has spent $1.2 million on the runoff election – $850,000 on TV ads, $300,000 on digital marketing and $50,000 going to talking to veterans and military families in Georgia. VoteVets is targeting roughly 200,000 to 250,000 veterans and military families who identify as Democrat or independent in Georgia. Its TV ads focus on allegations against Walker and abortion.
Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters, said his organization is spending more than $1.6 million targeting voters who are less motivated to vote during the runoff. “We've identified about 319,000 voters in Georgia who are not necessarily likely to turn out for the runoff and who care more about climate and environmental issues than some of the other voters in Georgia who may be less likely than not to turn out,” he said. The targeting is part of their climate voters mobilization program, which includes digital ads that tout Warnock’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act – historic legislation from the federal government that tackles climate change.
BlackPAC, which focuses on Black voter turnout, has spent about $2.4 million in the runoff, including on media and digital advertising. Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, said her group is spending nearly $400,000 on educating Black voters about voting laws in Georgia. "A lot of our outreach is really about raising awareness," Shropshire said. "So that people have the correct information about when they need to vote." Shropshire said the group spends money on Black radio "particularly outside of the Atlanta Market. "
BlackPAC and its affiliated nonpartisan Black Progressive Action Coalition have knocked on 2 million doors in Georgia during the runoff campaign, Shropshire said. By the time the runoff happens Tuesday, they will have attempted to knock on 3.5 million doors.
How impactful will money be in the runoff?
Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said that Warnock could be seeing more support because he is an incumbent, and because he has essentially been campaigning since he was first elected, not necessarily because he’s going to win.
“I wouldn’t trace any future Warnock victory to this spending,” she said. “This is a highly competitive race and there are people who care about the stakes of the election.”
Gillespie also pointed to Walker being a weak candidate, due to allegations he paid for an ex-girlfriend's abortions.
“I think some people are speaking with their dollars in terms of sort of a recognition of the weaknesses and the challenges he faces as a candidate and a reluctance to invest money in his candidacy,” she said.
Charles Bullock, a longtime political scientist at the University of Georgia, said spending millions of dollars on digital ads retelling Walker’s abortion allegations isn’t new for Georgia voters who have made it through the general election.
But Bullock said for some voters, Walker’s scandals could persuade them to vote for Warnock.
“Perhaps a finely tuned message that you then direct at a specific component of the electorate might then be the element that prompts some of those recipients to say, ‘Gee, I hadn't planned to vote, but now that I've heard this, I think I will go and vote,'” Bullock said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Georgia runoff: Super PACs giving more support to Warnock than Walker