Battle lines drawn in Georgia runoff as political groups ramp up spending with Senate majority on the line

In a taste of the expected deluge of ads to come in battleground Georgia’s burgeoning Senate runoff election, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) takes aim in a new commercial at Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock as a “great actor” who “votes with Joe Biden 96% of the time.”

The TV spot by the Senate GOP’s campaign arm — which started running on Thursday and which is backed by a low six-figure buy according to the national ad tracking firm AdImpact — is the first in Georgia’s runoff campaign between Warnock and Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker, in a showdown that may decide whether the GOP wins back the chamber’s majority.

Warnock finished roughly 35,000 votes ahead of Walker out of nearly 4 million votes cast in Tuesday’s election. The Georgia secretary of state’s office announced Wednesday that the Senate election was headed to a runoff since no candidate received over 50% of the vote. According to the latest unofficial and incomplete returns, Warnock was at 49.4%, Walker at 48.5% and Libertarian Party nominee Chase Oliver at 2.1%.

Under Georgia law, if no candidate tops 50% of the vote in the general election, the two top vote-getters face off in a runoff, which this cycle is being held four weeks later on Dec. 6.

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Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker speaks during an election night watch party on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Atlanta. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock speaks during an election night watch party on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Atlanta.
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Warnock, who is the minister at Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, narrowly edged Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in Georgia’s twin Jan. 5, 2021, Senate runoff elections. His victory, coupled with now-Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff’s razor-thin win over GOP Sen. David Perdue, gave the Democrats the Senate majority.

In the runoffs two years ago, the campaigns of the four candidates, the national political parties and outside groups such as super PACs shelled out a mind-blowing half a billion dollars to run ads.

Fast-forward two years, and Georgia is once again home to a crucial Senate overtime face-off.

HERSCHEL WALKER, RAPHAEL WARNOCK HEADED TO A RUNOFF IN GEORGIA

With votes in the midterm elections still being counted in the battleground states of Arizona and Nevada, and those Senate races still too close to call, the Republicans hold a 49-48 edge over the Democrats for control of the 100-member chamber. If the Republicans or Democrats sweep both of those contests, control of the Senate will be settled.

However, if the two parties split the contests in Arizona and Nevada, the Senate majority will be at stake in the Georgia runoff election. In Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly currently holds a slight lead over GOP challenger Blake Masters, while in Nevada, Republican challenger and former State Attorney General Adam Laxalt maintains a razor-thin edge over Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.

The NRSC announced Wednesday that it and Walker’s campaign have set up the 2022 Georgia Victory Committee, which is a joint-fundraising committee. A committee official told Fox News that it Is immediately deploying staff to the Peach State as it ramps up runoff operations.

In a memo to donors and supporters, the NRSC emphasized that, “It’s crucial that we raise the resources to stay on television. Instead of a multitude of different organizations running fractured efforts, we are asking you to donate and help fundraise to the Georgia Victory Committee.”

The Walker campaign touted it hauled in an impressive $7.6 million in fundraising on Wednesday and Thursday as the runoff election got underway, and told Fox News that it would return to the airwaves by the end of the week.

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The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) announced Thursday a new massive $7 million field organizing investment in the Georgia runoff, which the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm said will fund direct voter contact programs, beefing up Warnock’s already “robust” field organizing efforts.

“We know talking directly to voters through a strong, well-funded ground-game is critical to winning in Georgia, and we’re wasting no time in kick-starting these programs in the runoff,” DSCC chair Sen. Gary Peters, of Michigan, highlighted.

Warnock, in a fundraising email to supporters, warned that “Donald Trump, [longtime Senate GOP leader] Mitch McConnell, and the entire Republican establishment have spent millions to prop up my opponent, Herschel Walker, and defeat me. And they’re about to spend a whole lot more to definitively turn Georgia red.”

Former college football star and current senatorial candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a rally, as former President Trump applauds, in Perry, Georgia, Sept. 25, 2021.
(REUTERS/Dustin Chambers)

Two of the biggest ad spenders in the runoff election will likely be the main super PACs that play in Senate races — the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) and pro-Democrat Senate Majority PAC (SMP), which is allied with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Raphael Warnock has voted at every step to enable the Biden agenda and Georgians have had enough. We’re all in to do the blocking and tackling for Herschel Walker so he can stop the Biden agenda in the Senate,” SLF communications director Jack Pandol told Fox News.

Additionally, SMP spokesperson Veronica Yae-in Yoo emphasized that “we’re all in to help Reverend Warnock hold the line and we intend to communicate in every way possible to Georgia voters that Herschel Walker is unfit and unprepared to serve them in the United States Senate.”

Walker, who won a Heisman Trophy and helped steer the University of Georgia to a college football national championship four decades ago, jumped into the GOP race to face off against Warnock in the summer of last year, after months of support and encouragement from former President Trump to run for the Senate. It is Walker’s first run for office.

Thanks to his legendary status among many in Georgia and his immense, favorable name recognition in the Peach State, Walker was the overwhelming front-runner for the GOP Senate nomination and basically ignored the field of lesser-known primary rivals, declining to take part in debates as he focused his campaign on Warnock. Walker ended up trouncing his rivals in the May primary, but he quickly came under fire as the general election got underway.

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Walker was heavily criticized both on the campaign trail and in ads over what Democrats call his numerous “bizarre or false statements,” and also took fire over numerous reports that he overinflated the success of his businesses and academic record.

Even before he faced bombshell allegations in September and October that he had persuaded and paid for past girlfriends to have abortions — which Walker, who is a vocal opponent of legalized abortion, has repeatedly denied — the candidate was forced to play defense regarding a number of other personal controversies, from the accusations of past abuse and threats against his first wife to acknowledging children he fathered out of wedlock whom he had not previously publicly mentioned, despite having criticized absent fathers for decades.

The NRSC’s charging in their new ad that Warnock is a “great actor” appears to be a reference to police footage from two and a half years ago of the senator’s ex-wife describing him as a “great actor” and claiming that he had run over her foot.

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While Warnock denied the allegations and was never charged by police with a crime, the bodycam footage has been used repeatedly by Republican groups to attack the Democratic senator.