The Runoff Between Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel Already Has A Clear Winner: Atlanta TV Stations The special election in the Atlanta suburbs has become the most expensive U.S. House race in history. Although voters won't weigh in until next month, there's already one clear winner: TV stations.
NPR logo

Ad War Means Local TV Stations Win Big In Georgia's Special Election

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/529006698/530162631" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Ad War Means Local TV Stations Win Big In Georgia's Special Election

Ad War Means Local TV Stations Win Big In Georgia's Special Election

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/529006698/530162631" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A special congressional election in the Atlanta suburbs has become the most expensive race for a U.S. House seat ever. Georgia's 6th Congressional District has been solidly Republican for almost 40 years, but the race between Democrat John Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel has become a referendum on President Trump. And because of all the money in this race, that means a whole lot of TV ads. Here's Johnny Kauffman from member station WABE.

JOHNNY KAUFFMAN, BYLINE: Walk around the Atlanta suburbs these days asking people about the ads and you'll get a lot of this.

So I'm doing a story about all the money and the ads that are in the race.

BEVERLY COHEN: Oh, God.

KAUFFMAN: Beverly Cohen says she's never seen so many ads during an election.

COHEN: I will tell you the ads that the super PACs do, those are horrible no matter which side they're on.

KAUFFMAN: Negative ads like these.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Karen Handel, another self-serving politician. She'd fit right in in Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: John Ossoff would be Nancy Pelosi's congressman, not ours. Congressional Leadership Fund is responsible for the content of this advertising.

KAUFFMAN: So far, the candidates and outside groups are on track to spend at least $30 million on TV ads. When I put that number to someone who studies political advertising, he didn't believe me.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: So I don't know how this would work on the radio but if you can quote me as being, like, my mouth wide open.

KAUFFMAN: Ken Goldstein is a professor at the University of San Francisco.

GOLDSTEIN: That's just manna from heaven for them.

KAUFFMAN: For comparison, Goldstein says that during the general election, President Trump's campaign spent about $75 million on ads nationwide. In Atlanta, all the money in the special election has surprised local TV stations.

TIM MCVAY: We did not do a good job of forecasting and seeing that coming.

KAUFFMAN: Tim McVay is the general manager of Atlanta's ABC affiliate. In battleground states like New Hampshire or Florida, stations are used to extra money during campaign season. They may increase political coverage - not so much in Atlanta.

MCVAY: It goes to the bank.

KAUFFMAN: McVay says the station wants to save up for a rainy day.

MCVAY: Sometimes business can get hot, and sometimes you can go through tough patches.

KAUFFMAN: The local NBC affiliate is taking advantage of the unusually hot political season. They've added an extra newscast on a sister station that creates more time for ads. The race between Handel and Ossoff is close. Ken Goldstein, the professor, says even if the ads only make a small difference, they can be decisive in a race like this.

GOLDSTEIN: Listen. 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.

KAUFFMAN: The race won't be decided for another month, but there's already one clear winner - Atlanta's local TV stations. For NPR News. I'm Johnny Kauffman in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FIELD'S "A PAW IN MY FACE")

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.