Update 11:30 pm: This story was updated to reflect late election results.
In the wake of a closer-than-expected race in Kansas, donors and political groups from all over the country poured millions of dollars into Georgia's sixth congressional district in anticipation of Tuesday's special election to decide who will occupy the House seat vacated by former congressman and current Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Democratic candidate and political neophyte Jon Ossoff was the beneficiary of much of the country's largesse, raising more than $8 million in just three months. But 60 percent of his support came from small donations of $200 or less: Republican organizations were the big outside spenders.
The GOP seemed to get its money's worth late Tuesday, when it appeared that Ossoff would not cross the 50 percent vote threshold to avoid a June run-off. He would face Karen Handel, the top Republican vote-getter. Local and national Democrats may be inspired by the competitive results and step up the fight, but the demographics tend to favor the GOP to retain the seat, and the losing GOP candidates were already rallying around her Tuesday night.
Partisans on both sides watched the Georgia special election closely, seeing the traditionally conservative sixth district as a bellwether for voters' opinion of the Trump administration and an indication of Democratic chances in the 2018 midterm elections. Outside money poured into the district at a staggering rate: According to a Center for Public Integrity Analysis, there were ten outside dollars spent for every penny spent from Georgia, not counting the candidates' own spending.
The 30-year-old Ossoff raised more than $8.2 million — including more money from California ($515,000) than Georgia ($421,000). The Ossoff campaign has spent more than $5 million on campaign ads, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.
But major Democratic groups weren't much in evidence, unlike their GOP counterparts. According to a report last week from the Center for Responsive Politics, the Republican's Congressional Leadership Fund led outside group spending with $3.7 million. That was followed by $1.7 million from the National Republican Congressional Committee and $1.2 million from Ending Spending Inc., a super PAC founded by Republican financier Joe Ricketts. The right-leaning Club for Growth spent nearly $600,000. The largest chunk of group spending from a liberal group was the $256,000 spent by Moveon.org.
Democrats became more and more optimistic as polls consistently showed Ossoff with a big lead against a crowded field of Republicans, and within striking distance of the 50 percent threshold which would avoid the June run-off election.
Democrats received more reason for hope last week, after Democrat James Thompson lost by only seven points to Republican Ron Estes in the special election in Kansas's fourth district, which Donald Trump had won by 27 points.
But while Republican groups spent $4 million on ads attacking Ossoff, Democratic Party groups mostly kept their wallets closed. Many Democratic critics blamed their party for not investing more deeply in the Kansas race; with Ossoff's near-miss, they may see another opportunity squandered.