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Georgia Runoff Spending Tops $400 Million as Warnock and Walker Battle for US Senate Seat

Campaign finance data shows Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus and Richard Uihlein of ULINE Inc. giving a total of $2.75 million to the Republican candidate

The race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Hershel Walker has become the most expensive of the 2022 midterms.

A combined $412.6 million has been spent been spent on the race by both candidates and an array of special interest groups, according to new data released Friday by OpenSecrets.org, which tracks election spending nationwide.

That doesn’t quite match the staggering sums in 2020 and 2021, when almost a billion dollars flowed into the Peach State ahead of the Jan. 5, 2021 Senate runoff between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff ($515 million total), held concurrently with the special election in which Warnock defeated incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler ($406.5 million).

But spending on the Warnock-Walker contest is still sky high, an inevitable side effect of the pivotal role Georgia now plays in the fight for control of the U.S. Senate.

As a snapshot of how things are going, the Walker and Warnock campaigns have already gone through $181.2 million between them. Outside groups have contributed the remaining $231.4 million in campaign spending.

The single largest contributor is 34N22 Inc., a pro-Walker group — the name is a nod to the number 34 that Walker wore during his football career — that has spent $7.4 million. OpenSecrets lists the top 34N22 Inc. donors as Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus and Richard Uihlein of the office supply giant ULINE Inc.; Marcus is listed as giving $1.75 million, while Uihlein gave $1 million.

Meanwhile, Democratic political consultant David Brock’s super PAC, American Bridge 21st, has spent $4 million opposing Walker in Georgia.

The Koch Industry-funded Americans for Prosperity Action PAC has spent $1.43 Million opposing Warnock.

As for donations to the candidates, $149,556,882 in donations to Walker came from out of state.

One of the largest such contributions came from employees of Google parent company Alphabet, who donated a collective $302,756 to Warnock. Warnock also received a total of $254,000 from various labor unions.

Although with victories in Nevada and Arizona Democrats have already retained control of the U.S. Senate, a Warnock victory would change the balance of power from 50/50, with Vice President Kamala Harris providing tiebreaking votes, to 51-49. Crucially, this would give Democrats majority control over all Senate committees, voiding the power-sharing arrangement that’s been in place since Jan. 2021. Subsequently, the party has gone all out for Warnock.

For instance, former President Barack Obama provided last-minute support by campaigning for Warnock in Georgia this week.

Walker’s camp got its own endorsement from a former president, broadcasting Donald Trump’s enthusiastic support in TV ads. With Trump’s public appeal in question after candidates he backed in the midterms lost all over the country, Warnock’s camp spent its own money to simply air those ads, to make clear to voters that Walker is firmly on Team Trump.

As with campaigns across the country, one of the most stark policy contrasts between the candidates involves abortion rights. Warnock, a Baptist minister, weighs in as pro-choice, while Walker follows the Republican position of severely restricting abortion access for women.

Recently, Warnock also has been joined on the campaign trail by songwriter John Legend, actress America Ferrera, singer Dave Matthews and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda. Ferrera and Miranda have been key in getting out the Latino vote in Georgia.

Only two states, Georgia and Louisiana, require runoffs in a general election when no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote. In every other state, whichever candidate gets the most votes wins. In deep red Louisiana, this hardly matters: Republican incumbent Senator John Neely Kennedy won reelection with 61% in 2016. But Georgia has become much more of a swing state in recent cycles, and as a result the presence of third party candidates — such as Libertarians on the ballot in 2020 and 2022 — almost guarantee that neither the Republican nor Democrat will manage to get above the 50% mark.

But in 2020, Warnock received the most votes of any candidates on the ballot, 49.44% to Walker’s 48.49%. And with early voting closing Dec. 2, Warnock was ahead, with 52% of the vote to Walker’s 48%. Georgia officials said voters set a state record for early voting with more than a million ballots cast. In-person voting for the runoff occurs on Tuesday.

The record early voting came despite new restrictions passed in 2021 by Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature. The new law stopped the automatic mailing of absentee ballots to voters, increased voter identification requirements and significantly reduced the number of drop-box sites for early voting.

Civil rights groups called Georgia’s S.B. 202 “voter suppression,” and Major League Baseball pulled its All-star Game out of Atlanta in protest. Critics of the new law claimed it was simply a partisan response to the 2020 presidential election, in which state voters went Democratic for the first time in decades.