Groups spend to sway Ga. Senate runoff

ATLANTA - Ask Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss or Democratic challenger Jim Martin about all the national attention their U.S. Senate runoff is attracting and they say that Georgians will ultimately decide the contest.

But that hasn't stopped the outside dollars from rolling in to try to have some sway.

Campaign finance records show that in the two weeks since Election Day groups from NARAL-Pro Choice America to the National Cotton Council have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Georgia race.

And that doesn't count the $1.4 million the national parties in Washington have so far poured into the state to flood the airwaves with blistering runoff attack ads.

Chambliss and Martin are each raking in donations for the Dec. 2 runoff. The hotly contested race could end up being among Georgia's most expensive. New financial filings from the candidate are due later this week.

But the candidates' spending captures only a part of the picture.

Under federal election law, outside groups may spend what they wish on election-related activities as long as they don't coordinate with the candidates or specifically endorse anyone.

'It's voters that decide elections. But it's money that decides which message those voters hear before they go to the polls,' said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for The Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington D.C.-based watchdog group.

The stakes are high.

Georgia is one of three states with Senate races remain unresolved. The contests all have GOP incumbents and if all three lost Democrats would win a filibuster-proof, 60-seat majority.

But while the other two contests in Minnesota and Alaska involve votes that are still being counted - or recounted - in Georgia the campaigning goes on.

Because it's the only game in town, the money is flowing.

Freedom's Watch, a conservative group funded by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, has been among the biggest runoff spenders. They've shelled out $518,795 for ads attacking Martin's record on taxes.

The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List has spent $51,064 on radio spots airing on Christian radio targeting Martin.

'Its frightening. Liberal abortion extremists taking control of Washington,' the ads begins.

The group's political director, Joy Yearout, said the Georgia race is a top priority because it could keep 'Democrats hostile to our issues' from gaining a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

The other side is also weighing in.

NARAL-Pro Choice America spent close to $20,000 on printing and telemarketing opposing Chambliss.

So far, the independent spending favors Chambliss as a number of Republican groups have lined up behind the embattled incumbent. The National Republican Trust PAC has been spending heavily on online banner ads, e-mail and direct mail.