The Final Front of the 2020 Ad Wars

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The most expensive election season in American history is not over yet. With two runoff elections in Georgia set to determine control of the Senate, many more millions of dollars will be spent on television ads before polls close in the state on Jan. 5.

Actually, $97.5 million more, as of now. And that’s a number that’s likely to grow.

The two biggest spenders are the Republican incumbents, Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Mr. Perdue has roughly $19 million in ad reservations over the next two months, while Ms. Loeffler has plunked down $31 million.

The ad spending indicates a late infusion of cash for Mr. Perdue, who fell just short of the 50 percent of the vote he needed on Election Day to avoid a runoff. His campaign had about $8.2 million in cash on hand at the end of September, according to federal campaign finance records, and he had raised only $5.6 million in the preceding three months.

Ms. Loeffler, who is independently wealthy, had given roughly $20 million of her own money to her campaign before her top-two finish this month in the crowded special election for her seat.

The Democratic challengers are, for the moment, being significantly outspent on air. Jon Ossoff, who is challenging Mr. Perdue, has about $12 million booked in advertising, while the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is running against Ms. Loeffler, has roughly $20 million dedicated to ads.

Adding to the Republican advantage is a bevy of Republican super PACs and outside groups that have already invested millions in Georgia. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to Senator Mitch McConnell, has spent roughly $2.5 million in each of the races. And American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by the Republican strategist Karl Rove and run by a former McConnell aide, has poured $4.7 million into the effort to support Ms. Loeffler.

National Democrats, meanwhile, began funneling funds to the runoff races as soon as it became clear that Senate control was hanging in the balance.

Needless to say, the campaign is about to get messy in Georgia. Or, perhaps more accurately, stay messy.

Mr. Warnock previewed as much when he released a satirical attack ad against himself, with a narrator intimating that Mr. Warnock “eats pizza with a fork” and “hates puppies.”

“Get ready, Georgia,” Mr. Warnock said in the ad. “The negative ads are coming.”

He was right, of course. Ms. Loeffler and American Crossroads have run exclusively negative ads during the runoff campaign, according to Advertising Analytics. And three-quarters of Mr. Warnock’s own ads have been negative.

There is not much positivity on the airwaves in the race for Mr. Perdue’s seat, either. Both the Perdue campaign and the Senate Leadership Fund are running a wholly negative ad campaign. And while Mr. Ossoff’s ads are largely positive, two Democratic outside groups — Senate Majority PAC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — are running only negative ads.

As of Tuesday, there were 14 different campaign ads already on the air in Georgia, running the gamut from attacks on the candidates’ records to attempts to tie their political fortunes to the presidential race.

Mr. Ossoff, in a new ad released on Tuesday, pledged to “work with Joe Biden to empower the medical experts” in the fight against the coronavirus and cast Mr. Perdue as an obstructionist, claiming “he’ll do everything in his power to make sure Joe Biden fails, just like he tried to do with President Obama.”

On the Republican side, the specific lines of attack vary, but both incumbents have used the phrase “Save the Senate” in their ads.

Georgia voters are already quite familiar with all four candidates: More than $206 million was spent on ads in the two races combined through Election Day, the third most spent on Senate ads in a state this cycle behind North Carolina and Iowa.

Familiarity, however, will not pre-empt another advertising war. Ads will continue to flood the state, even during Falcons games, whether or not people are still watching.

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Ad of the week: Seizing on the Biden celebrations

The spontaneous celebrations on the streets of New York City after President-elect Joe Biden’s victory are now part of an attack ad from Mr. Perdue in Georgia.

The message: It was a moment that political operatives quickly saw as likely to make it into a campaign ad. Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, made a pronouncement amid the swells of supporters celebrating the projections that Mr. Biden had won the presidential election: “Now we take Georgia, and then we change America!”

Within days, the clip was on the air in Georgia, aimed against Mr. Ossoff. The ad centers on the word “change” as an ominous idea, accusing Democrats of seeking to defund the police and give voting rights to undocumented immigrants, though those are not policies supported by Mr. Ossoff, Mr. Schumer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Mr. Biden.

The takeaway: Senate races in battleground states often make the pitch that “control of the Senate hangs in the balance.” Rarely is that as true as it is in Georgia, and Mr. Perdue’s effort to pitch himself as the one to “stop” these changes will probably be a central part of his runoff campaign, especially if President Trump ever accepts the fact that he lost the election.

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