The one thing guaranteed about the Georgia runoffs is the astronomical price tag.
With such high stakes and so few races, it’s always been a sure bet that the state will be awash in money — one political scientist predicted that the races might gobble up a billion dollars when all is said and done.
That money is translating into attack ads dominating TV and computer screens in Georgia homes, billboards lining their streets, flyers dropped in their mailboxes. The faces of Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), David Perdue (R-GA), Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are plastered across the state, often through dark grainy filters and overlaid with narration about the various threats they pose. National ad-tracking firm AdImpact found that $283 million has already been spent on TV spots.
Here’s a guide to the glut of attacks and innuendos with which Georgians are being inundated daily.
Perdue Attacked For His Stock Trades
Ossoff and Democratically-aligned PACs have been hammering Perdue for his history of suspiciously timed stock trades.
Two new PACs run by allies of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will have spent over $15 million by the end of this week on ads attacking Perdue and Loeffler for their stock portfolios.
One of the recent ads took advantage of the drip-drip-drip of new reporting that keeps emerging about Perdue’s trading. It highlights a New York Times report about a Department of Justice investigation into possible insider trading, though the agency closed the case without pursuing charges. The ad does not mention the probe’s closure.
That story has been followed by another Times piece capturing Perdue’s prolific stock trading, often involving companies overseen by the various committees he sits on.
Perdue’s trading has become a centerpiece of Ossoff’s campaign, as he has tried to paint the senator as singularly focused on his own financial interests. He made the argument most famously during a debate moment-gone-viral when he called the senator a “crook.”
Perdue, in a Trumpian turn, has been declaring himself “totally exonerated” of any wrongdoing. He actually announced that he had been investigated and the probes closed in a September ad.
Members of congress can legally trade individual stocks, but they’re not allowed to trade on insider information. That can create a soupy ethical mess, given that members of Congress are often privy to a hard-to-separate mix of public and nonpublic information.
Perdue’s stock trading emerged as an issue during the general election as well, especially due to his gobbling up of stock in Pfizer, the company that has since manufactured a COVID-19 vaccine, and DuPont, which produces personal protective equipment, after a January Senate briefing on the COVID-19 virus. Perdue was not the only senator investigated for his stock activity after the meeting, and his office has said that he had not attended the briefing.
Loeffler Also Under Fire For Her Stock Trades — And Her Wealth
Democrats and the Warnock campaign are trying to make Loeffler’s suspiciously well-timed stock trades a sticking point too, especially within the canvas of her enormous wealth.
Loeffler and her husband unloaded $19 million in stock after the Senate briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, though she claims innocence since the trades were handled by an investment firm. The Justice Department briefly looked into whether her actions amounted to insider trading, but closed the investigation before long.
The state Democratic Party used the episode in an ad featuring criticism from Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) during the first round of the election when he was running against Loeffler, plus clips from Fox News during which the hosts questioned Loeffler about whether her trades were illegal. The ad cuts out Loeffler’s answers to the questioning.
Warnock has also used Loeffler’s immense wealth to create a through-line in his attacks — that she’s always “looking out for herself.” He’s used that theme heavily in his health care-themed criticisms, particularly those about Loeffler’s inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Warnock Tarred As ‘Radical’ Preacher
Warnock, who went relatively unscathed in the first round of voting as Loeffler and Collins tore into each other, is now being targeted by Republicans as they seek to paint him as a “radical” preacher.
Many of the ads have been crafted from carefully edited snippets of Warnock’s sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church, once run by Martin Luther King Jr., where Warnock is now the pastor.
It’s a tactic reminiscent of the GOP’s racially charged fixation on then-candidate Barack Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright. Indeed, Loeffler’s campaign put out an ad in mid-November explicitly tying Warnock to Wright, labeling Warnock a “radical’s radical.”
One of the videos quotes Warnock as saying: “America, nobody can serve God and the military. You can’t serve God and money. You cannot serve God and mammon at the same time. America, choose ye this day who you will serve.” Warnock has explained that he was expressing his “ultimate allegiance” as one to God, that everything else is built on that “spiritual foundation.”
Loeffler has also dabbled in different flavors of the “radical,” “extremist” vein, some of which critics say have racist undertones.
In one ad from Loeffler’s campaign, the narrator intones that Warnock “wants to make your neighborhoods less safe.” It’s a callback to President Donald Trump’s attempts to win over white women during the campaign by warning that Black Lives Matter or Antifa was coming to terrorize their suburbs. The ad tries to cast Warnock as anti-police for criticizing the officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Warnock has not embraced the “defund the police” movement, and said “you can both affirm the dignity, and the importance of what law enforcement does, and at the same time hold police officers who engage in police brutality accountable.”
In another ad, the Loeffler campaign links its opponent to an age-old GOP bogeyman: Fidel Castro. The former Cuban revolutionary once made a visit to a church in New York where Warnock was a youth pastor, though PolitiFact found Warnock wasn’t part of the event.
The Loeffler campaign has also made from very icky innuendos that Warnock was involved in a child abuse investigation at one of his old churches because of charges against him that were soon drooped; he maintains that he was just trying to ensure that the children who were part of the ordeal had access to lawyers while being interviewed by police.
Ossoff Predictably But Wrongly Labeled ‘Communist,’ ‘Socialist’
Perdue regularly calls Ossoff a “socialist,” despite Ossoff’s fairly middle-of-the-road positions and rejection of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
In one ad spot funded by a Republican Super PAC, Ossoff is accused darkly of taking in “dirty money” to help Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) achieve their “radical agenda.” The same ad alleges that Ossoff’s documentary company took money from “Chinese communists and terrorist sympathizers,” though the accusations are fairly flimsy.
In another ad, the Perdue campaign tries to pin Ossoff to “radical” ideas like defund the police, which Ossoff has said he opposes.
It’s a continuation of Perdue’s general election strategy, where he aired an ad claiming falsely that Ossoff was endorsed by the Communist Party: to make Ossoff out to be a radical and extremist.