As Senate control could come down to a Georgia runoff race for the second time in two years, it’s also the second time in two years where former President Trump may do more to harm Republicans’ chances of success there than he has done to help them.
Trump’s Super PAC spent $3.4 million backing Herschel Walker in the general election that culminated Tuesday in neither Walker nor incumbent Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock topping 50% of the vote, necessitating a December 6 runoff. While Trump’s endorsement helped the former NFL great secure the Republican nomination, the spending amounted to less than 5% of the $72 million that outside groups spent helping Walker in the general election, according to a Daily Wire analysis of Federal Election Commission records.
Super PACs like Trump’s Make America Great Again Inc. can spend unlimited funds independently supporting a candidate or cause, as opposed to PACs, like Trump’s Save America, which dole donations out directly to candidates.
Walker, whose campaign raised $38 million, could have used more outside help, especially given that Warnock raised $123 million, according to FEC data running through October 19.
Now that the two have to square off again in what is likely to be one of the most expensive runoff elections in history, Democrats have begun moving millions into the state to back Warnock. Trump’s Save America PAC had nearly $70 million in the bank as of October 19. By law, it could move any or all of that money into Super PACs to spend on Walker’s runoff campaign. A spokesman for Trump’s political organizations declined to say whether the former president would spend money helping Walker in a race that could break the 50-50 Senate deadlock.
Trump showed a willingness to spend more freely in Georgia when it came to opposing certain Republicans. Save America’s largest candidate-related expenditures were in the Peach State, including $4.4 million spent on groups that opposed Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in the primary. That money was ultimately wasted as Kemp prevailed and went on to easily win re-election with 53.4% of the vote – 5% more than Walker, his fellow Republican on the same ticket.
In September 2021, Trump endorsed Walker, a former NFL and University of Georgia star who had appeared on Trump’s TV show Celebrity Apprentice. That set off a primary fight between Walker and others, including a more established political player, Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black. A spokesman for the Georgia Democrats rejoiced at the time, saying Trump putting his weight behind Walker, who was dogged by allegations of threatening women with domestic violence, “cements the nightmare scenario that Republican leaders in Georgia and Washington have wanted to avoid. This is going to be a long, divisive, and expensive intra-party fight focused on political loyalty tests.”
The runoff situation is déjà vu. Democrats control the Senate now because in 2021, two Georgia Senate races went to runoffs, and Republicans lost both.
Both of the state’s Senate seats were on the ballot January 5, 2021, with one of them a special election to finish the final two years of the term of Republican Johnny Isakson, who retired. Republicans took the most votes in the initial election for both seats: Republican Sen. David Perdue bested Democrat John Ossoff, 49.7% to 47.9%. In the special election in which Warnock ran against Kelly Loeffler, four candidates were on the ballot, and Republicans got 45.9% to Democrats’ 35.7%.
But because no candidate got 50%, both headed to runoffs.
And then came Trump.
After Trump lost the 2020 presidential election in part due to losing Georgia, he pressured Kemp to order an audit of signatures on mail-in ballots, something Kemp said he had no power to do. That left Trump incensed at the governor. Lin Wood, a lawyer who had donated to Georgia Democrats and not voted in the Republican primary, took up Trump’s claim that his loss in the state was the result of a rigged election, donning a MAGA cap and holding rallies at which he encouraged Republicans not to vote in the Senate runoffs. The result was a Democrat sweep.
Trump himself did not tell supporters not to vote, instead saying, “We have to do just the opposite.” But Washington Examiner reporter David Drucker later asked Trump what might have happened if Trump had said “despite some irregularities that deserved looking into, the state’s voting system was reliable” and urged supporters to vote.
“I don’t know,” Trump said. “I did say a version of that, but not as strongly as you said, because I was very angry with what happened there.”
Trump supporters emphasize that money aside, he also holds rallies with candidates at his side, which can help convince people who are conservative but might otherwise sit out election day to vote.
But precedent suggests that in Georgia, an association with Trump may do more to harm Republicans than help them. In addition to Kemp’s victory, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also handily won his primary and general elections despite Trump backing a challenger because Raffensperger would not indulge Trump’s requests related to the election.
Trump boosters also note that he attends fundraisers with candidates, allowing them to raise money because attendees are, in part, paying for a chance to spend time with Trump. Trump held two fundraisers for Walker, but both of them were during the primary election, not the general election, according to a list of fundraisers reviewed by The Daily Wire.
Trump has floated an announcement that he will run for president in the next week, though advisers are cautioning him to postpone it, saying it could distract from the Georgia Senate runoff and motivate Democrats to turn out to vote for Warnock, who has finished his two-year special term and is seeking a full six-year term.
Trump can use the money in his Save America PAC to run for president. But if he or any other Republican is elected president in 2024, they will be able to get far more done with a Republican-controlled Senate than a Democrat-controlled one.