The remarkable special congressional election in the sixth district of Georgia has already captured the imagination of political people — especially Democrats — around the country. And now that the race is headed to a June 20 runoff, it seems very likely to gain the distinction of being the most expensive House race ever.
Right now the record is held by the 2012 election in the 18th congressional district of Florida, pitting wild-man incumbent Republican Allen West against Democrat Patrick Murphy. West, being a wild man, had a national fundraising base, and he and his allies spent close to $20 million. Murphy and his allies spent enough to push the total to a reported $29,279,964. Murphy narrowly won.
Runoff candidates Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff aren’t there yet, but are off to a blazing start in fundraising and spending after a combined $14 million was deployed for the first round.
Ossoff and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reserved three-quarters of a million dollars in ads almost instantly after the April 18 returns. With the Democratic candidate coming so close to a knockout, there is no reason to think his amazing fundraising will slack off significantly. And whether or not he remains highly competitive in the ad wars, his investment in field operations (costing $2 million before the first round) is impressive, as Roll Call reports:
By the end of the primary, Ossoff’s team had recruited nearly 10,000 unique volunteers and hired 100 field staffers. Since February, field staff knocked on more than 250,000 doors. With the Democratic Party coalescing early behind Ossoff, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee trained and built up much of his field team. The campaign’s goal is to hire dozens more field staff by the time of the runoff.
For the primary, the campaign had precinct captains in more than half of the district’s 209 precincts. Leading up the runoff, the goal is to have a precinct captain in all of them. These local leaders help foster “neighbor-to-neighbor” conversations about the race.
On the GOP side, it’s not Handel (who will supposedly benefit from a fundraiser headlined by Donald Trump himself) who’s burning money, but the outside GOP groups that may have actually outspent Ossoff in the first round. Paul Ryan’s leadership PAC spent a reported $3 million in the first round, and has already committed $2.5 million for ads and another cool million for field operations. You can expect the National Republican Congressional Committee (the DCCC’s counterpart), which spent $2 million the first time around, to stay engaged, along with the Ricketts family’s Ending Spending PAC, which was unique in backing Handel from the get-go. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also expected to spend some dough backing Handel.
By the nature of these things, the spending will continue as the race stays close, and there’s no reason to think it won’t be close if Democrats remain energized in what would normally be an extremely low-turnout, Republican-dominated special runoff. The West-Murphy spending record might have been safe if the runoff campaign in sixth congressional district wasn’t a nine-week marathon. As it is, the money will keep rolling in like the ocean tides.