Democrats bring deep pockets to Georgia's congressional runoff

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After losses in Kansas and Montana, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is funding the costliest House race ever.

The race for Georgia’s 6th District is already the most expensive Congressional contest in U.S. history. More than $36 million has been poured into the race from both parties, much of it spent on broadcast TV and radio ads. But that’s just the beginning. 

Despite fervent rhetoric opposing the administration of President Donald Trump, Democrats have twice failed to wrest Congressional seats from Republicans in runoff races over the last two months. But national Democrats are taking no chances in Georgia’s 6th District, and they’re shelling out the ad buys to prove it.

After a first round vote on April 18, the race narrowed to two candidates, Democrat and political newcomer John Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, the former Georgia secretary of state. With the field cleared, spending skyrocketed. Just a week ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pledged $2 million to the cause, but an analysis this week by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution pegs the actual spend at $3.6 million, including $165,000 just for radio and print ads targeting African-Americans.

"Every last dollar helps," said Jordan Lieberman, politics and public affairs lead for Audience Partners, an ad-targeting firm that has worked with both Democrats and Republicans. As for whether blanketing an audience with ads can backfire, "there is really only risk of backlash if your ads are crap," he added.  

In total, Democratic groups have spent $11.3 million on the race since April 18, edging out the $10 million Republican groups have spent in the same time period. Total spending is expected to top $40 million. In comparison, a typical House race in 2014 cost the winner $1.5 million in total. 

Ossoff has been hitting Handel hard on her opposition to abortion rights. As senior vice president of public policy at the breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Handel cut ties with Planned Parenthood in 2012. After an outcry from supporters, the relationship was reinstated and Handel resigned from the organization.

For her part, Handel has questioned Ossoff’s credentials. Ads on behalf of both candidates have come under scrutiny by PolitiFact and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker.

The DCCC’s spending in this race is in stark contrast to its involvement in last month’s bid by James Thompson for Kansas’ 4th congressional seat. The organization spent only a tiny amount—less than $50,000—on that campaign. When Thompson lost the race by only 8,195 votes, progressives came down hard on the organization, accusing it of failing to support viable candidates.

Yet the DCCC let candidate Rob Quist fend for himself until the eleventh hour in last week’s special election for Montana’s lone seat in the House of Representatives. Only in the last two weeks did it pump half a million dollar dollars into the race just before voting closed. It couldn’t resist weighing in on Republican candidate Greg Gianforte’s alleged assault of a reporter for The Guardian, but Gianforte still ended up winning by 6 points.

Afterward, the DCCC released a memo claiming the low spending in the Kansas and Montana races was part of an intentional plan. "DCCC took a smart chance with its investments, refused to waste money on hype," the May 26 memo said. If that’s any indicator, the millions of dollars it’s spending on the Georgia race shows just how much of a chance Democrats think they have to win.