ATLANTA — The gulf between the haves and the have-nots has widened in the primary fight for Georgia governor.
When it comes to money, Democrat Roy Barnes and Republican John Oxendine have pulled far ahead in the crowded 14-person race and seem almost to be competing on a different playing field.
The most recent campaign finance disclosure reports filed this week show that Barnes has raised almost $5 million since jumping into the race last year. Oxendine has raked in nearly $4 million since 2008. In terms of total cash raised, Republican Nathan Deal is a distant third with $2.6 million. Barnes has already spent more than that.
The difference has mainly been felt on the airwaves. Barnes has been saturating TV with a heavy barrage of ads touting his support for education, jobs and alternative fuel. The former governor has so far spent some $3.75 million in his bid to reclaim his old job, nearly 70 percent of that on advertising.
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Oxendine, the state’s insurance commissioner for the last 16 years, has been more frugal so far but has also begun laying down some serious cash to reach television viewers. He has spent $2.1 million, less than half of that on media. In his spots, Oxendine is promoting his “Contract with Georgia,” which would, among other things, eliminate the state income tax.
With just days left until the July 20 primary, the focus now changes from how much money candidates are raising to how they are spending it.
The 14 candidates have shelled out a combined $12.6 million in the race for the state’s top spot. The reports cover a three-month period ending June 30, so that total has certainly grown larger as candidates scramble to get their message out.
The leading Democratic and Republican candidates all have ads up and running as the campaign hurtles into the homestretch, but Barnes and Oxendine are investing in more aggressive buys.
When it comes to money in the bank, Oxendine has the edge: $1.8 million cash on hand to Barnes’ $1.15 million.
For the most recent quarter — covering April, May and June — Barnes raised $1.3 million and Oxendine $869,550. Because he still holds office, Oxendine was barred from raising cash for most of April.
But if Barnes knows one thing, it is that money doesn’t always guarantee votes. He had a massive fundraising lead over Sonny Perdue in 2002 — $20 million to Perdue’s $3.65 million — yet he was still soundly defeated in his bid for a second term.
And while Oxendine and Barnes are posting impressive totals relative to the rest of the field, fundraising is off from past years due to the struggling economy.
In the Democratic race, Attorney General Thurbert Baker was a solid second behind Barnes.
Baker raised $537,325 in the most recent quarter and has $430,862 left in the bank.
House Minority Leader DuBose Porter and former Georgia National Guard commander David Poythress trail the leaders. Poythress raised $220,867 in the last quarter and has $306,279 in the bank. Porter took in just $66,603 in the last three months and has $101,303 left to spend.
Among Republicans, Deal, former Secretary of State Karen Handel and ex-state Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson are grouped tightly together.
Deal raised $539,077 in the last three months and has $642,976 on hand. Handel took in $431,811 and has $667,840 in the bank. Johnson raised $401,335 for the quarter and reported $613,270 left on hand
A runoff is widely expected in the Republican race and conventional wisdom holds that Deal, Handel and Johnson are battling it out for the second runoff slot against Oxendine.
With his money lead, Oxendine would hold a clear advantage if he makes it into a runoff. He would have far more money in the bank, allowing for a quick turnaround, critical for the breakneck pace of a three week runoff. The other candidates would need to quickly reload their campaign war chests.
Runoffs are held in Georgia if no candidate wins 50 percent plus one of the vote.
Candidates in Georgia were required to file their campaign finance disclosures by midnight Thursday.