A comfortable suburban area not used to being an electoral battleground is now the center of attention for political people everywhere, at least through April 18. It must seem to casually political residents of the Sixth Congressional District of Georgia like waking up in the middle of the night and seeing the midnight sun. Airwaves where political messages are usually limited to highly partisan outlets like Fox News are, for the moment, dominated by an unprecedented (for Georgia, that is) ad blitz.
Candidates and outside groups have spent nearly $14 million on an unending ad blitz in the race to replace Rep. Tom Price’s suburban Atlanta seat, and that tally that will surely grow in the final days before Tuesday’s nationally-watched vote.
Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is by most accounts within striking distance of a first-round majority in a “jungle primary” field of 18 candidates, has totally dominated individual candidate fundraising with a reported $8.3 million haul — most of it (as Republicans want every voter to know) from outside the state. He’s run $5.3 million in ads since late February. Anti-Ossoff messaging, however, is also being paid for by out-of-state interests, notably Paul Ryan’s Congressional Leadership Fund ($2.1 million in ads) and the National Congressional Campaign Committee ($1.8 million in ads). The ads against Ossoff (with the exception of an early one with footage of Ossoff dressed as Han Solo in college) have mostly depicted him as a stooge of Nancy Pelosi, countering his own efforts to come across as a nonpartisan problem-solver.
Only one of the 11 Republicans in the race, self-funding former state senator Dan Moody, has spent major money of his own, with about $2 million in ads. The conservative Club for Growth is backing Bob Gray, who is campaigning as the maximum pro-Trump candidate, with a half-million dollars worth of ads, mostly attacks on GOP front-runner Karen Handel — who is herself benefiting from $700,000 in ad spending from the Ricketts family super-PAC, Ending Spending.
In general, the GOP field has a dilemma: Ossoff has an absolute lock on a position in the June runoff, if there is one, making it critical that they claw each other out of the second spot. So the GOP candidates with the money to do so are going after each other — especially Handel, a well-known figure who has run second behind Ossoff in every poll.
This homemade-looking digital ad from Bob Gray reflects the belief that persuadable voters in the sixth are conservative Republicans with long memories:
Another one from Dan Moody depicts Handel as not only a career politician but as a loser, a reminder that she lost statewide races in 2010 and 2014:
The big question is whether the nationally funded ad war against Ossoff will be enough to knock him into a runoff. There are some signs his momentum has slowed. A new poll today from RRH Elections/Decision Desk HQ has Ossoff at 39 percent, with just 6 percent undecided; his top showing in any poll is 43 percent. There are also signs that Republicans are beginning to catch up with Ossoff’s heavy advantage in in-person early voting, which ends tomorrow.
As for the Republicans, that same RHR/DDHQ survey showed four Republicans within five points of each other (Handel: 15 percent; Gray: 12 percent; Moody: 11 percent; Hill: 10 percent). Anything could happen by Tuesday. You have to wonder if Paul Ryan’s robocalls to Republicans to vote will be supplemented by others from leading Republicans, including you-know-who. That would be a debatable tactic, since Ossoff’s most compelling message is that he intends to “make Trump furious.”
And although Team Ossoff understandably thinks its chances for victory are best with a first-round win, it’s possible, if his fundraising stays semi-sensational, he could beat a weakened Republican in June — particularly if it’s Handel, who’s borne the brunt of intra-party attacks and has sometimes struggled to raise money.
The one sure thing is that voters in the sixth won’t see anything like this race in the foreseeable future. The intensity of ads is such that a significant number of people in the Atlanta media market have been showing up to vote early — only to find out they don’t live in the district.