The race to fill Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price’s former congressional seat in Georgia’s 6th district is officially the most expensive House race in US history, Politico reported on Saturday.
A total of over $US29.7 million worth of TV ads have been reserved or aired during the campaign, which breaks a 5-year-old record, the report said. The previous record was $US29.6 million, which went towards a 2012 House race in Palm Beach, Florida.
Georgia’s special election captured national attention when former congressional aide and rising Democratic star Jon Ossoff became a serious contender for the seat, which had been held by a Republican for the last 40 years.
The first round of the election ended in a runoff, with Ossoff failing to break the 50% threshold required to win an outright victory. He received 48% of the vote in a field crowded with Republicans, while his closest challenger, Republican Karen Handel, garnered 20%.
The race for the 6th district is seen by many as the first major referendum on Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, and polls show an increasingly tight contest between Ossoff and Handel, who is Georgia’s former secretary of state.
One poll released on Friday showed Ossoff with a narrow 50% to 48% lead over Handel.
Some political strategists feel the number could go even higher ahead of the June 20 runoff, which is still six weeks away. “It’s entirely possible that by the time the books are closed on this race, there will be over $US40 million spent in the special and in the runoff,” Chip Lake, a Republican strategist who works in Georgia, told Politico. “I’m at a loss for words.”
In addition to big-dollar investments coming in from the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees, the race has also attracted a high level of grassroots excitement, Democratic strategist Taryn Rosenkranz told Politico.
Rachel Paule, a grassroots organiser in Georgia, told Business Insider that the biggest indicator she had seen of local Democratic sentiment was the number of “secret liberals who have come out of the woodwork” since President Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election.
A Republican congressman “was just sort of a given, and a lot of people were afraid to speak out because this is such a conservative area,” Paule said of Georgia’s 6th District.
Ossoff’s candidacy spurred Paule and her fellow organisers into action, in large part because many saw Ossoff as their “first chance” to “make a meaningful change by flipping the seat,” Paul said, adding that the most recent Democratic candidate in the district didn’t campaign, have a website, take donations, or make appearances.
Other grassroots organisers have cited Trump’s victory as a driving force behind their efforts to propel Ossoff to victory.
“After Trump won the election, our group doubled in numbers,” Shari Sprigle, one of the founders of the grassroots group Liberal Mums of Roswell and Cobb, told Business Insider. “During the time of the election, we were at 600 members. Now we’re at 1800,” she added. The group has been active in Georgia’s 6th district since 2015, but Sprigle said the “level of offensiveness of Trump” fuelled the group’s effort to flip the seat in favour of a Democrat.
Republicans have also ratcheted the amount of attention and resources they’re dedicating to the race. Handel’s campaign raised more than $US1 million the week after the primary, the report said, and she drew in an addition “hundreds of thousands” of dollars when Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan spearheaded separate fundraisers in her support.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a conservative super PAC, announced that it would pour $US8.5 million into the race by the June 20 runoff, which is a record for any outside group in a House election.
Despite both sides putting an unprecedented amount of money into this election, Republicans are aware of the future risks posed by a spike in Democratic grassroots action.
“If Democrats are able to raise small dollars from donors in a big way like they have done so far, then this is probably going to be the most expensive midterm we’ve seen thus far,” one Republican national strategist told Politico. “It’s the clearest signal yet for every single Republican member of the House running for reelection that if you are not raising money and if you are not running a professional campaign, you are vulnerable to defeat.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.