It won’t be decided until June 20, but there’s already a big winner in the special election for Georgia’s 6th District Congressional race: Atlanta's local TV stations.
The House race between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff is set to be the most expensive in U.S. history. Candidates and outside groups have combined to spend around $30 million on TV ads, a number that will grow as Election Day nears.
"It's been a significant figure, a lot of money in a short time,” said Mark Pimenthal, general manager at CBS 46.
"When you get revenue in, it helps you pay your bills,” he said, declining to provide details on how much the station has brought in or how it’s being spent.
Another station, NBC Channel 11, was looking for more space to fit all the ads. So it created an extra 30-minute newscast on its sister station WATL, according to a source familiar with private conversations at Channel 11.
The station’s news director and general manager didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Local stations in primary, and battleground states like Ohio, Florida, Iowa, and New Hampshire, are used to boosts of cash around elections, and regularly add extra newscasts to accommodate, said Ken Goldstein a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco.
The political ad money is like “manna from heaven for” the local TV stations, Goldstein said.
The $30 million spent in the 6th District race is more than a third of Donald Trump’s total ad budget, according to Goldstein.
"In the general election for president of the United States, Trump and all of his allies combined, spent $75 million,” he said.
But, while Trump spent money around the country, in the Georgia House race, it’s all going to Atlanta TV.
The ads aren’t going to make more than a marginal difference in the race, Goldstein said, but they could still be decisive if it’s close.
"If campaigns and outside groups have the money, and this is the only game in town, even if it's phenomenally inefficient, they really don't care about efficiency. They care about winning. Period,” he said.
Since the runoff began, the Ossoff campaign has spent at least $6.7 million on TV ads, according to records obtained by WABE, while Handel’s campaign has yet to buy TV time in the runoff. However, outside Republican groups have spent $7.7 million, and outside Democratic groups have spent about $2 million on ads. Compared to the campaigns, which pay a base rate, non-candidate groups are paying at least four times as much for ad time in Atlanta, according to analysis by Goldstein.
Sixth District voter Beverly Cohen groaned when a reporter asked her about the number of ads appearing on her TV.
"I will tell you the ads that Super PACs do. Those are horrible. No matter which side they're on,” Cohen said.
Ted Poulus tries to avoid the ads, but they often catch him while he’s watching baseball.
“Then I've got the mute button,” he said, “thank goodness.”