How GA-6 became the most expensive House race ever

On June 20th, the race to fill the United States House seat vacated by Tom Price came to an end with Republican Karen Handel defeating Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election. In what was a tough and tight race, both sides and their allies poured money into the campaigns as they battled it out in a district that’s been solidly red for nearly 40 years and was formerly represented by Newt Gingrich.

Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) examined the advertising expenditures and creative messaging in the run up to the election, which turned out to be the most expensive House race ever.

Local TV stations were the big winners during the 109 days in this election cycle with $28 million spent on broadcast TV advertising – more money than any other U.S. House race CMAG has ever tracked. Indeed, some stations actually added local news programming to capitalize on the ad bonanza.

Throughout the election, 16 sponsors aired 69 unique creatives on nine different broadcast TV stations. Cox Television’s WSB-TV was the leader on the media side, receiving more than one third of all ad dollars (over $10 million).

Democrats lead for spend

Together, the candidates and their supporting groups spent an average of $261,000 daily. However, things really heated up on June 19th, the day before the election, when CMAG monitored an estimated $833,000 being spent – the most expensive day for the race. More than half of overall spend ($17 million) occurred during the runoff election after the first round on April 18th.

Overall, the candidates were the biggest spenders during the race, accounting for 65 percent of expenditures. The parties were responsible for 18 percent, and outside groups 17 percent.

Candidate spend was mainly driven by Ossoff, who invested more heavily than anyone in hopes of turning the district blue. Accounting for almost half of all ad dollars, Ossoff spent an estimated $13 million overall, though ultimately this couldn’t score him a win. Conversely, Handel’s campaign spent only $2.8 million throughout the entire election, and all of this was in the runoff.

Supporting groups mirrored the candidates in terms of share of spend. In the runoff election, Democrats spent $5 million on ads to support Ossoff, while Republicans spent just $1.3 million supporting Handel – a spending pattern similar to what we saw from both parties during the 2016 Presidential race.

Negative messaging dominates the airwaves

In such a tumultuous political time, it’s not surprising that the majority of all advertising dollars in the runoff were spent on ads with a negative tone. Indeed, 53 percent of spend, or $9 million, went towards negative advertising.

Republicans were the leaders in the area, spending $6 million on ads attacking Ossoff, while Democrats spent $5.4 million on negative ads going after Handel. Indeed the individual commercials with the most money behind them in the runoff election from each party was negative. 

Ossoff spent $1.1 million on his ad discussing Handel’s Planned Parenthood funding cuts:


Handel spent $675K on her ad attacking Ossoff on his lack of experience and ties to Democratic party leaders:


Each of these ads are indicative of the campaigns the candidates ran.

The political ad bonanza may be over for now, but local TV stations gladly benefited from the rush. The fact that this was such a close race may mean local stations can look forward to more advertising activity than usual during next year's midterms.

Note: All spot counts and spending estimates are for broadcast TV only

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