Republicans bet big on the ground game to get out the vote and won big on state legislature races, and nearly took back the House, but lost two key Senate races in Arizona and Colorado and were forced into the Georgia Senate runoffs (not to mention Biden's substantial win in the presidential contest.) The GOP won smaller "all politics are local" races, but the Dems won the nationalized big ticket battles with a superior national ad campaign, assisted by anti-Trump Republicans who (and it pains me to say this) made a difference.
So what's the plan in Georgia, a single state with two huge nationalized Senate races and control of the Senate itself on the line? Switching off, apparently, as Dems are going after a precisely targeted ground game in Black and Latino communities to get out the vote, while Republicans are betting big on saturating the airwaves and internet ads with tens of millions in out-of-state dark money Super PAC dollars.
Democrats are getting out-advertised in the Georgia Senate runoffs thanks to a megadonor-funded blitz from GOP super PACs in the races that will decide control of the Senate.
Republicans hold an overall advertising advantage across the state, largely fueled by $86 million in outside spending supporting their candidates, compared to just $30 million spent by Democratic outside groups on TV advertising so far, according to AdImpact. Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are hauling in record small-dollar cash, far ahead of GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — but not enough to own the airwaves.
Super PACs pay more per ad than candidates do, so Ossoff and Warnock have been able to blunt the GOP’s financial edge, especially in the Atlanta media market, where nearly two-thirds of people in the state reside. But GOP TV ads are running in much higher rotation in other markets, according to data from AdImpact, and the disparity has sparked concern among Democrats that the two campaigns aren’t getting enough help with control of the Senate on the line.
Interviews with a dozen Democratic strategists and donors outlined several key reasons why Republicans have been able to build an advertising advantage. There’s fatigue among Democrats’ biggest donors after pouring millions into the 2020 general election, as well as mild skepticism that Ossoff and Warnock can actually win.
“[Donors] say, ‘I’m tired,’ they say, ‘I’m spending on ground game,’ … and lastly, they say, ‘I don’t think [Democrats] are going to win,’ even though they don’t have good data to back that up,” said one prominent super PAC official, granted anonymity to discuss the issue candidly. “The outside money’s been obscene [on the Republican side], and outside money on the Democratic side has been slow.”
Most crucially, there is growing suspicion among some Democratic donors — grounded in the party’s failure to flip control of the Senate in November — that massive TV ad campaigns don’t equal success, and money might be put to better use with organizations operating on the ground in Georgia instead of on the air.
“There’s a feeling in the donor community that too much was spent on TV and not enough on field operations,” said Ami Copeland, a Democratic strategist who served as Barack Obama’s deputy national finance director in 2008. “We had parity plus last time on TV, and it didn’t work. If donors are shifting their contributions and their support to ground operations, that at least shows a willingness to learn very quickly as to what might work and try something a little different.”
That strategic choice is showing up on the ground: Organizations focused on voter registration and mobilization, like Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight, are swimming in record cash. The Indian American Impact Fund announced this week they’d drop $2.5 million to turn out Asian American and Pacific Islander voters through digital ads, mail and field operations. BlackPAC, Collective PAC and the New Georgia Project are all out in force with field programs in the state, even though some activists still say they could use more cash to fund their efforts in these all-important races.
“I do think there’s been a shift with Democratic donors, particularly women donors, who are far more progressive about supporting and understanding [the importance of a] ground game,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, another group based in Georgia doing on-the-ground organizing. “There’s been some shift where there’s more resources on the ground, but I don’t think it’s at the level or at the scale we need.”
Indeed, even while Democrats aren’t thrilled to be outspent on TV, the disparity isn’t generating the five-alarm panic that it might have before November. Most Democrats argued a runoff puts heavier emphasis on turning out voters rather than persuading them, a reality that lends itself to door-to-door canvassing rather than to non-stop TV ads.
A Democratic donor adviser also noted that high-dollar contributors are “very reluctant to put a lot of money on traditional advertising plans” right now.
The lesson Republicans took away from November is that local races count, but nationalizing the race wins the nationally-important races. The lesson Democrats took away from November is that nationalizing a local race can mobilize the other side, too.
Both are correct.
We're about to see "by how much".