Nov 9, 2022 - Podcasts

Georgia on our minds

Georgia is in focus today, as the state gets ready for a runoff election in the tight Senate race between Senator Raphael Warnock and his Republican opponent Herschel Walker. Neither received 50% of the vote, sparking a December 6th runoff.

  • Plus, record-setting billions were spent in campaign advertising in these midterms. What was the impact on results?
  • How midterm outcomes will affect U.S. climate policy.

Guests: Axios' Emma Hurt, Lachlan Markay, and Ben Geman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Naomi Shavin, Robin Linn, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: It’s Wednesday, November 9, 4 p.m. eastern to be exact.

And this is another special extra edition of Axios Today.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering: record-setting billions were spent in campaign advertising in these midterms – what was the impact on results? But first - Georgia on all our minds. That’s our One Big Thing.

Georgia on all our minds

NIALA: Georgia is in focus today, as the state gets ready for a runoff election in the tight Senate race between Senator Raphael Warnock and his Republican opponent Herschel Walker. Neither received 50% of the vote – sparking a December 6th runoff.

Axios’ reporter Emma Hurt joins us from Atlanta with the big picture. Hey Emma!

EMMA HURT: Hey Niala.

NIALA: Emma, before we get to details about the runoff, you last talked about what the selection would say about Georgia being quote the new South. What did we learn about this?

EMMA: Look, Democrat Stacy Abrams lost her race in 2018 by 1.4 points. But she lost last night by more than eight points. It's quite a shift over four years. And all the races, except for the Senate down ballot have gone Republican. And so I think what we're seeing is the contention of Democrats that Georgia is blue. It's not the case in this moment, it's not the case in the vote totals. Now we still have two Democratic senators and as we know this Senate race is extremely competitive. So purple still seems to apply, but Republicans' down ticket seemed to manage to appeal to the voters who showed up yesterday.

NIALA: Let's talk about Stacy Abrams, as you said, she lost her rematch race against incoming governor Brian Kemp. At one point, she was on the shortlist of possible VP picks for President Biden. What does this loss mean for her political career?

EMMA: This is huge. I mean, you have to remember that at this point, Abrams has only been elected by a State House district in Atlanta. She's managed to become a national political figure, and I don't think that's going to change necessarily, but at the same time, the voters of Georgia spoke very clearly yesterday that they were not a fan of a nationalized candidate. She was a celebrity for four years. She was, she was on magazine covers. She earned millions in speaking fees and book deals. And, I think voters noticed that. At the same time, you know, Brian Kemp in 2018 seemed like a far right candidate who was, his commercials featured him rounding up criminal illegals in his pickupruck. He didn't win swing voters four years ago, but this year it seems like he really did. And so the question remains for Abrams as well as like, you know, Beto O'Rourke in Texas, another high profile Democrat who's now got a double loss, what happens to them?

NIALA: Let's talk about that Senate race. First of all, how did we end up in a runoff?

EMMA: Georgia is the only state in the country with this kind of structure, where you have general election runoffs for every race except the presidency. And history seems to be repeating itself here as well, given our Senate runoffs in 2021. And in terms of how this happened mathematically, Governor Brian Kemp got, right now, roughly 200,000 more votes than Herschel Walker. That seems to be the pool of swing voters that carried Governor Kemp and other statewide Republicans over the line, but also the pool of voters who were not willing to vote for Herschel. You know, some people skipped the race. The Libertarian in the Senate race got a lot more votes and Senator Warnock got a lot more votes than the other statewide Democratic candidates.

NIALA: So what do we need to know about these December 6th runoffs?

EMMA: We need to know that it's on December 6th because they changed the loss so we wouldn't have the January runoffs of 2021. So we at least get our Christmas back. We need to know that they'll be, probably one week of early voting, which is a lot less. That is key because in, you know, in the runoffs in 2021, there were multiple weeks now we've got one because it's only a four week turnaround. It's gonna be really tight.

NIALA: Axios’ Atlanta's Emma Hurt part of our politics team. Thanks Emma.

EMMA: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: In a moment, politics reporter Lachlan Markay on the MASSIVE spending on these midterms.


Record-setting billions were spent in campaign advertising in these midterms

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

Now that election day has wrapped, we'll finally have a reprieve from the onslaught of campaign ads and texts. All that messaging doesn't come cheap. Almost $10 billion will be spent on political advertising alone, that's according to AdImpact. But did all that big campaign spending actually translate to wins? Lachlan Markay covers money and politics for Axios.

Lachlan, first let's just start with how much political spending increased in this midterm cycle?

LACHLAN MARKAY: So total spending at the federal level was over $9 billion. That was up from, I believe, six or seven, four years ago. It's down from where we were in 2020, but of course you had a presidential contest at the top of the ticket there. So, you know, this is a definitely a record for a midterm cycle and it's not even particularly close.

NIALA: And remind us where this money's coming from?

LACHLAN: Well, it varies. You know, candidates, they are mostly getting money from individuals. And you know, when you're talking about particularly these very competitive Senate races. You know, these folks are getting contributions from millions of people and it's adding up to tens, even in some cases over $100 million in contributions from just single individual donors. And then, you have to factor in of course the super PACs and dark money groups and other independent political spenders, and they're very often getting massive checks from each party's top donors. We saw some of those spending $100, $200 million for the cycle

NIALA: Did it matter?

LACHLAN: You know, it's tough to say just if for no other reason then there are so many very tight races that have yet to be called. I looked at about 12 of the most competitive House races in the country. These are all races where candidates of both parties, incumbents and challengers, they're all raising well into the seven figures. That has been sort of a mixed bag. Some of these incumbents are raising huge amounts of money, and they're losing to less well funded challengers. Some of them also with big war chests are able to fend them off. So, you know, I don't think this cycle has done anything to answer that perpetually debated question of whether money wins an election or buys an election.

NIALA: So it sounds like the bottom line is we'll continue to see record spending on this because it's not clear the impact it has?

LACHLAN: Well, what is clear is if you're a candidate, you're up against an incumbent with $10 million in their war chest, you would better be able to raise substantial amounts of money if you actually want to compete. You know, if you look at some of the big discrepancies that we saw in elections yesterday. For instance, the big one was the Pennsylvania Governor's race, Josh Shapiro the Democrat and eventual winner, had raised something to the effect of $20 to $25 million. Doug Mastriano, his Republican opponent, was closer to $2 or $3 million. He just could not compete with the massive amounts of ads that the Shapiro campaign was airing in a state that has some pretty expensive media markets, so, you know, having money is not enough to win a race. But if you don't have money and your opponent does you're at a major disadvantage.

NIALA: Lachlan Markay covers money and politics for Axios. Thanks Lachlan.

LACHLAN: Thank you.

How midterm outcomes will affect U.S. climate policy

NIALA: As midterm results keep rolling in, the global COP27 climate conference continues in Sharm El Sheikh Egypt… and the elections could have major implications for U.S. climate policy. Axios’ Climate and Energy Reporter Ben Geman explains how.

BEN GEMAN: If as appears fairly likely, Republicans regain the House of Representatives, even a slim majority gives the party control of committees, and that means powerful investigative powers. So I think you can expect probes of how the Biden administration is spending the $370 billion worth of low carbon energy and climate investments in the big climate bill that Democrats passed on a party line vote. And expect aggressive oversight of regulatory decisions that Republicans oppose. Notably financial agencies forays into climate policy such as the Securities and Exchange Commissions efforts to require new emissions disclosures. Backers of these kinds of policies say they provide needed info and protections for investors, but Republicans see a stalking horse for steering investment away from oil and gas.

If we have divided government, the prospects for agreement on major new legislation are slim, but look for the GOP to push bills, promoting their message on opening up more lands for oil and gas development and a GOP climate agenda that's far less aggressive than Democratic policies, but does promote nuclear power tree planting and some other things.

From the Biden administration, a major focus will be on implementing these two huge new laws that jointly provide hundreds of billions of dollars, the climate statute and the bipartisan infrastructure law. You'll see some criticism from Congress especially of that climate law, but the votes just aren't there for repeal. But Congress does control the purse springs on new spending proposals. The White House wants to greatly boost foreign assistance for developing countries to tackle climate change, but those funding requests will get a cool reception in the GOP led House and possibly Senate. And also look for the Biden administration to continue wielding executive authority on areas like vehicle mileage standards and power plant emissions rules, and tougher Capitol Hill scrutiny of these efforts. The bottom line, I think we're in for an active two years at the very least.

NIALA: That’s Axios’ Ben Geman.

That’s all we’ve got for this special edition of Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll be back with you, as usual, tomorrow morning.

For The Economist's analysis of the results of the midterms and where America is headed -- listen to the "Checks and Balance" podcast -- where John Prideaux and his colleagues provide their perspectives on democracy in America. Join them today and start listening to "Checks and Balance" wherever you get your podcasts.

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