Politico

Karl Rove, GOP building money machine for Georgia runoffs


Republicans are digging deep into donor pockets as they fight to protect their endangered Senate majority, with the price tag for two Georgia runoffs already eclipsing $300 million, putting them among the most expensive elections ever.

Party officials have tapped into the full national network of Republican donors with an aggressive schedule of fundraising events, in-person and conducted over Zoom, that have already yielded tens of millions of dollars. Significantly more money is expected in the coming weeks as the GOP ups its fundraising goal, according to internal party memos and event schedules obtained by POLITICO.

The Georgia Battleground Fund — the joint fundraising committee fueling the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the campaigns of Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — has already deposited $31 million after three weeks of activity, according to a memo this week from Karl Rove, the veteran GOP operative leading the effort. The effort is sending Loeffler and Perdue as much money in weeks as some GOP senators raise in months — a necessary boost for their campaigns as Democrats outspend them in Georgia.

Rove wrote in the memo that his committee had increased its initial fundraising goal by about 20 percent, to nearly $43 million in total. That would require the committee to raise roughly $2.4 million per week in the run-up to the Jan. 5 races.

Six fellow senators are helping meet the increased goal, appearing on state-specific Zoom fundraisers for the joint fundraising committee this week and next week, according to a copy of scheduled events for the fund. Rove is listed on the schedule as appearing at more than a half-dozen events.

None of the Georgia campaigns or outside groups has yet filed reports with the Federal Election Commission detailing their activity since the November election, so the overall fundraising picture remains unclear, and the joint fundraising committee is just one piece of the total fundraising effort for both campaigns. But Democrats across the country raked in record amounts for the 2020 elections — and, so far, the Democratic campaigns have significantly outspent Republicans on TV, according to data from AdImpact.

Democrats Jon Ossoff, who is facing Perdue, and Raphael Warnock, who is challenging Loeffler in the special election, have combined to outspend the two Republicans on TV, $40 million to $19.5 million since Nov. 3, according to the AdImpact data. Both Democrats also have more booked on the airwaves for the final five weeks of the race so far. GOP outside groups have made significant investments to match or exceed the total Democratic spending. But the campaigns get much better rates with TV stations, making those hard dollars more valuable.

Overall, past and future advertising spending in the two races has already topped $300 million, and both races are likely to be among the most expensive Senate contests in history, even over only two months.

“The Democrats will go all out, and the Republicans will do what they can to match them. It is a legitimate titanic struggle,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who represented an Atlanta-area district during his time in Congress.

Perdue and Loeffler will appear at a major fundraiser Thursday at the Atlanta Braves’ ballpark, according to three people familiar with the event. An invitation obtained by POLITICO also lists Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), the NRSC chairman, as special guests for the Thursday fundraiser.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts would appear at a Zoom fundraiser on Thursday, a spokesman for Sasse confirmed. A Zoom fundraiser next Monday will feature Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley of Iowa appearing together, according to a copy of scheduled Georgia Battleground Fund events.

Already, the fund has sent $11 million to the two campaigns and $15 million to the NRSC, which spent big on coordinated ads, independent expenditure ads and resources for the vast ground game, according to the memo.

Rove’s memo said the joint fundraising committee has more than 400 bundlers, with tiers ranging from those who have helped raise $50,000, to several who have helped raise more than $1 million.

“Let’s all step up the pressure for the three weeks left before Xmas!” he wrote.

Young, the NRSC chairman, and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the incoming chairman for the 2022 cycle, are co-headlining an event in Jacksonville next week, according to the schedule. Scott is also appearing at a virtual Zoom fundraiser Friday for the joint fundraising committee along with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of GOP leadership, and Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, according to a copy of an invitation. Barrasso is doing a second fundraiser that day for Loeffler’s campaign, according to a person familiar with the event.

“Everyone is singing from the same sheet of music, which is encouraging,” said one Republican working on the runoffs, requesting anonymity to discuss the party’s efforts.

Alongside the hard dollars for the campaigns and committee, outside groups have poured significant money into the runoffs already. Senate Leadership Fund and American Crossroads, two groups led by allies of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have already spent or booked $80 million combined for the races. Their Democratic counterparts, The Georgia Way and Georgia Honor, have invested nearly $17 million so far. The Democratic groups are buying ad time weekly and have not yet booked a full amount for the totality of the campaigns.

“The amount of money flowing into Georgia’s political system is unprecedented and it’s all hands on deck for everyone,” said Scott Reed, a veteran GOP operative.

In addition to fueling the massive ad spending, the fundraising is helping the GOP pour resources into its ground game in an effort to turn out voters, even as the party struggles with an intraparty feud that some worry could turn off some of the president’s supporters and hurt turnout efforts. Democrats have kicked off their own get-out-the-vote campaign on the ground, returning to door knocking with precautions to turn their voters back out.

Rove acknowledged the Democratic efforts in his memo but said it “takes time to get to scale: we have a jump on them and expect more volunteers” after President Donald Trump visits the state for a rally this weekend. So far, the party has canvassed 540,000 households with more than 848,000 targeted voters, according to the memo.

“This is a tough battle that requires all hands on deck to ensure Sens. Perdue and Loeffler have the financial resources they need to win,” Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the NRSC, said in a statement. “Democrats are going to throw every dollar they have at us, and we appreciate the great team of leaders that’s helping our side compete.”

Former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who narrowly lost the 2014 Senate primary to Perdue, said there is a point of “diminishing returns” on ad spending with the state fully saturated with commercials. But he said there’s always other avenues where the fundraising is beneficial, including multiple contacts with potential voters.

“You can’t saturate the playing field with volunteers. Having paid staff to go out and do some of that street walking, you can spend it all day,” Kingston said. “This isn’t really a persuasion campaign anymore. It is get out the vote.”

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