Democrats came surprisingly close to seizing a red seat earlier this week in in a House special election in Kansas. But filling HHS Secretary Tom Price’s seat in the Georgia 6th in another special next Tuesday is the battle where Team Blue may have a real shot.
Frontrunner and first-time candidate Jon Ossoff raised a startling $8.2 million in the just over three months he’s been in the race — an amount that puts him at №11 all-time in funds raised by House candidates in an entire cycle. More than 60 percent of that money came from small donations of $200 and under, with help from a fundraising push by the liberal Daily Kos; 95 percent came from donors outside his district and 80 percent from outside the state. He also reported the League of Conservation Voters Fund bundled $39,000 on his behalf.
That’s also not including the $288,000 he received from the end of March to April 10 in donations of more than $1,000, according to his 48 hour reports.
“Those huge fundraising numbers can serve both as an asset and a liability,” said GOP strategist Chip Lake. “You have all the money in the world at your disposal but its also a liability that so much came from not only outside his district, but outside of Georgia. What he’s been able to achieve is nothing short of historic.”
And outside groups, both connected with the parties and not, are in fight mode: 17 groups have spent $8.2 million in under two months. For comparison, it was big news when Republicans dumped $130,000 into Kansas. In the Peach State, seven groups spent more than that. The 18 candidates themselves raised $10.2 million in three months.
“The whole reason this race is open is because the president Dems are rallying against chose the incumbent to join his cabinet, but he’s on his cabinet because he’ll be the architect of the repeal of Obamacare,” Lake said. “So you have all these factors that make this race very attractive to Democrats who are getting two licks at the sucker.”
Georgia came in second as a source of funds for Ossoff ($421,000) behind California ($515,000). New York ($383,000), Massachusetts ($153,000) and Illinois ($77,000) also helped fill his coffers.
But though he’s stuffed his warchest, Ossoff is facing $5.5 million in negative ads from groups such as the GOP leadership’s Congressional Leadership Fund ($3.7 million), the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) ($1.8 million) and the National Rifle Association ($61,000).
“Jon Ossoff can’t be trusted,” says the voiceover in a Congressional Leadership Fund ad. “Jon Ossoff isn’t telling you the truth. Factcheckers agree that Ossoff is puffing up his resume,” after showing a clip of the candidate saying he had five years as a national security staffer.
The group has posted seven ads against Ossoff on its YouTube channel, the most famous pulling clips of the candidate dressed as Han Solo from Star Wars and singing in his Georgetown acapella group.
Combined, candidates and outside groups spent almost $14 million on ads alone, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, with Ossoff’s campaign pouring in $5.3 million to radio, TV and cable ads. Republican Dan Moody, a former state senator and Army Reserve officer, spent the next greatest amount at $2 million, mostly from his own pocket. The Washington Post reported that Paul Ryan recorded a robocall urging Republicans to go to the polls, though didn’t push a specific candidate.
And that’s why Ossoff and his supporters hope he can pull more than 50 percent of the vote next week. Otherwise, the top two finishers go to a runoff, and with GOP support consolidated he faces tougher odds.
“We have a really deep field of Republicans with a lot of quality candidates, and in this race it’s much more of a curse than a blessing,” Lake said. “They’re competing with each other and meanwhile Ossoff completely solidified his race so he’s spending most of his money and time picking off whatever soft Republican voters he can.”
Former state Sen. Judson Hill raised the third highest sum behind Ossoff and Moody at $473,000, about 5 percent of Ossoff’s haul. He also has received $15,000 in direct mail help from the Brighter Future Coalition, a super PAC created last month that hasn’t yet had to disclose its donors.
The former Republican Georgia secretary of state, Karen Christine Handel, is backed with $1.2 million from the super PAC Ending Spending, run by the Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts family, as well as Save the American Way, a super PAC that sent out mailers claiming she would “end Muslim immigration,” a message Handel condemned. But another conservative super PAC, Club for Growth Action, has been on the attack, spending $441,000 against her on ads and mailers. That’s almost as much as Handel raised on her own in three months, approximately $464,000, making her the fourth biggest fundraiser in the race. Accountant William Llop gathered $408,000 in receipts, but $406,000 of that came from a loan to himself.
Former Johns Creek councilman Bob Gray drew $155,000 in negative ads by Americans United for Values.
“I don’t think it’s an unfair assessment to say that the two candidates most likely to come in second place behind Ossoff are Karen Handel and Dan Moody,” Lake predicted. “Moody spent $2.5 million of his own money, and over a compressed time frame you’ll see some returns in there. Handel came as the only viable female candidate in a field full of male candidates, has the most name identification and she’s been the beneficiary of [super PAC] spending and on the wrong side of super PAC attacks.”
Early voting ends Friday, while the primary election is next Tuesday. The runoff, if one is needed, will take place June 20.
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