The special election to fill a vacant House district in Georgia could be the most expensive race of its kind in history as Democrats and Republicans scramble for an early advantage in the battle for control of Congress.
Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel are squaring off in a June 20 runoff to succeed Tom Price, who retired to become Health and Human Services Secretary. A combined nearly $20 million was spent in the open primary, money that continued to pour in as the votes were tallied on Tuesday.
The 2018 midterms are more than 18 months away. But suburban Atlanta’s conservative-leaning 6th District has become ground zero for Republicans seeking to hold their majorities and Democrats looking to weaken President Trump.
“This is all hands on deck for the Republican Party,” said a GOP operative who is active in the race, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The 6th District is the kind of seat Democrats have to win to put a dent in the Republican majority. The upscale, college-educated, mostly white enclave has voted Republican since 1978, but supported Trump over Hillary Clinton in November by only 1.5 percentage points.
An Ossoff victory could expand the House playing field and threaten the Republican majority. Handel winning, as was expected at the outset, could dampen the Democrats’ 2018 prospects. The high stakes have ignited a political spending spree.
“The DCCC’s early run-off investment will help sustain Ossoff’s momentum coming out of the special, and is reflective of the committee’s offensive position across the map this cycle,” said Meredith Kelly, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Ossoff finished first in round one of the special election, garnering 48.3 percent of the vote and narrowly falling short of the 50 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff.
The 30-year-old former congressional aide raised more than $8.3 million in round one; millions more were spent on his behalf by liberal groups. On Wednesday, Ossoff placed a television ad buy of nearly $300,000 to run on broadcast and cable in the Atlanta media market.
The DCCC supplemented that purchase with a similar ad buy costing nearly $500,000. The Democratic National Committee also was continuing to pour money and manpower into the race as well, bolstering Ossoff with crucial assistance in digital and field operations.
On Thursday, DNC Chairman Tom Perez was in Atlanta to headline a fundraiser for the Georgia Democratic Party, with the money raised headed straight for Georgia 6.
“We have an army of volunteers — couple thousand volunteers — that are helping Jon Ossoff,” Perez said this week in an interview with CNN. “We have energy.”
Handel, 55, is Georgia’s former secretary of state. She bested a crowded field of Republicans in the primary, all of whom were gunning for her, to finish second with 20 percent of the vote.
The National Republican Congressional Committee placed an initial ad buy to support her candidacy late Thursday, media buying sources confirmed. The $250,000 purchase was to run on broadcast and cable in the Atlanta market.
Still, Republicans appeared to be moving slightly slower than their Democratic counterparts in activating their resources for what is expected to be a competitive runoff, as the party committees and conservative outside groups took a day or two to assess the political atmospherics of the Ossoff-Handel race.
Until Tuesday, their main focus was holding the Democratic nominee below 50 percent.
“Republicans successfully kept Jon Ossoff from his stated goal: winning the seat outright on April 18. Now we’re united and working aggressively to elect Karen Handel in June,” NRCC spokesman Matt Gorman said.
Ossoff has had no problem raising money, giving him one clear advantage in a contest in which the politics of the district favors Handel. He brought in $8.3 million the first three months of the year, and will assuredly raise millions more going forward.
Handel has never been a prolific fundraiser, bringing in less than $500,000 through March 31. To jumpstart her fundraising, her campaign issued an email appeal signed by Trump, using House Speaker Paul Ryan’s vast (and lucrative) email list.
Ryan is planning to campaign with Handel in the 6th district in May, an aide to the Wisconsin Republican confirmed. Scores of prominent figures from both parties are likely to parachute into the district as Election Day draws nearer.
“It will be a noisy 60 days,” Georgia-based Republican operative Charlie Harper said.
This post originally appeared on Washington Examiner