Elections 2020,  National,  State

Georgia Senate Ads in Florida TV Markets

Outside interest groups and political action committees are spending large amounts of money on ads in Florida television markets as the Georgia Senate runoffs are heating up.

The stakes on the Jan. 5 election could not be higher as both of the Senate seat results will determine which party has a majority in the Senate and will control much of President-elect Biden’s legislative agenda. 

Unlike most elections where the winning candidates have to get the most votes, Georgia law states that the winning candidate must reach 50% of the vote to win the election officially. If neither candidate wins, then the top two candidates who get the most votes move to a second election, and everyone will vote all over again.

Georgia having two Senate races in the same election year is unusual. Having both elections turn to runoffs is rare, but it is also a once in a generation opportunity to enact political change.

The first race is a reelection race where Republican incumbent Senator David Perdue is running for another term against Democrat Jon Ossoff.

The second race is a special election to fill the seat of former Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired last year due to bad health. Republican Kelly Loeffler, who Georgia governor Brian Kemp appointed to fill Isakson’s seat in 2019, faces Reverend Raphael Warnock as the Democratic challenger.

Neither candidate for both races reached 50% during the November election. Perdue came close with 49.7% of the vote, while the special election had a crowded field of both Republicans and Democrats that led to Loeffler and Warnock reaching the runoffs.

The latest campaign finance filing reports that all four candidates have collectively raised over $430 million for the runoff. Ossoff and Warnock each raised over $100 million while Perdue and Loeffler raised $68 million and $86 million, respectively.

Despite being outraised, the Republican candidates have significant support from outside groups who are allocating hundreds of millions of dollars in TV advertising, some of which is targeted to Jacksonville and Tallahassee markets.

A map of Florida’s television markets. Unmodified photo by 7.11 brown used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3ojUuIt)

The map above displays the 10 media markets Florida has. Two out of the 10, those being Tallahassee and Jacksonville markets, directly share a border with Georgia.

Jacksonville has been the largest out-of-state market for the Senate race. Around $13.1 million in TV advertising has been booked in the Jacksonville area for the Georgia runoff.

Bob Ellis, the general manager at WJXT at Jacksonville said “It’s a phenomenon like we haven’t seen. In a year where we had a pandemic, it is certainly expected and welcomed.”

While Jacksonville has been the largest out-of-state market, Tallahassee is the most efficient; 35% of the viewers from the Tallahassee market are from Georgia compared to only 10% of Jacksonville.

Most of the groups who are spending money on TV advertising are not the campaigns themselves but rather outside groups who have big-money donors backing them. Many of these groups are called Super PACs because that status grants them the power to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections on the basis of free speech.

According to federal law, the campaigns can only be charged the lowest rate for TV advertising. On the other hand, Super PACs can be charged the highest rate to have their advertisements displayed in the respective media markets.

Florida’s media markets are one of the most expensive in the country, especially during the campaign season.

From a political and financial standpoint, choosing to spend large amounts of money on TV advertisements in an expensive media market where only a fraction of the voters who reliably vote Republican live may not be the best return of investments for a Senate campaign – nor will it be indicative of who will win the race.

However, the November general election results magnified the importance of the runoff and raised the stakes for the eventual outcome.

However, as political races become increasingly tight, spending large amounts of money to reach voters in all areas of Georgia, including several counties in Florida, is a necessary risk especially in this runoff where every vote will matter.

Featured image: An “I voted sticker” from Georgia’s election. Unmodified photo by Thomas Cizauskas used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/2Xjpool)

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.      

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