The most expensive congressional races of the last decade

The most expensive congressional races of the last decade
© Greg Nash

Political campaigns are becoming more expensive, as more Americans contribute to candidates and outside groups blanket the airwaves and fund armies of canvassers. Since 2010, Republicans, Democrats and their outside supporters have spent more than $25 billion on federal elections alone.

Here are the 10 races — five Senate contests, five House elections — that cost the most money over the last decade:

Florida Senate, 2018: $214 million

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Rick Scott (R) made millions during a career as a health care executive, and he spent a huge chunk of it to win Florida’s governor’s office twice. Then he wrote himself another $63 million check when he decided to challenge Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonLobbying world The most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world MORE (D).

Scott’s campaign spent a total of $85 million, more than double Nelson’s $33 million. Outside groups dropped an incredible $97 million of their own. For all of Scott’s spending advantage, he only narrowly ousted Nelson, by about 10,000 votes out of more than 8 million cast.

Texas Senate, 2018: $137 million

In a rapidly changing Texas, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) caught lightening in a bottle — and he almost caught Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzLawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil Overnight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves MORE (R).

O’Rourke’s loose style and infectious videos snapped in Whataburger parking lots attracted an incredible $79 million in donations, while Cruz raised and spent a not-unimpressive $45 million of his own. Outside groups added an extra $13 million, with more than half of that money funding attack ads against O’Rourke.

Cruz eked out a narrow win, taking 50.9 percent of the vote, but O’Rourke may have demonstrated just how close Texas is to becoming a competitive state. O’Rourke won more than 4 million votes, more than Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe two infectious diseases spreading across America Former Clinton staffers invited to celebrate Sanders dropping out: report Sanders exit leaves deep disappointment on left MORE or Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump's self-interest is at odds with safe coronavirus policy Progressive youth groups issue demands for Biden ahead of general election Obama: Robust coronavirus testing and monitoring the key to reopening country MORE won in their presidential races.

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Missouri Senate, 2018: $128 million

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGOP lukewarm on talk of airline bailout Claire McCaskill: Ron Johnson is an 'embarrassing tool' To winnow primary field, Obama and other Democrats must speak out  MORE (D) played her politics well in 2012, when her campaign virtually picked its own deeply flawed opponent. No such luck in 2018, when she faced Attorney General Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyPressure mounts on Congress for quick action with next coronavirus bill Hawley unveils initiative to rehire workers laid off during coronavirus crisis, bolster domestic production Lawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors MORE (R). McCaskill raised a whopping $39 million, while Hawley pulled in $11 million of his own. 

Outside groups spent millions more than both candidates combined: The Senate Leadership Fund, which backs Republicans, and the Senate Majority PAC, which backs Democrats, dropped about $20 million each on the race. Republicans spent about $8 million more beating up on McCaskill than Democrats did on Hawley; Hawley unseated McCaskill by a 6-point margin.

Florida Senate, 2010: $79 million

When a state legislator takes on a sitting governor of his own party, it rarely works out well. But when that legislator is Florida House Speaker Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMnuchin, Schumer in talks to strike short-term relief deal Senators push for changes to small business aid Phase-four virus relief hits a wall MORE (R) and that governor is Charlie CristCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristBiden rise calms Democratic jitters Mnuchin details IRS challenges with cash-only marijuana businesses Democrats gear up for State of the Union protests as impeachment lingers MORE, things get a little hectic. Challenging Crist from his right, Rubio caught the Tea Party wave and looked like he was cruising to a stunning primary upset.

But then Crist left the GOP to run as an independent, virtually boxing out the Democratic nominee, then-Rep. Kendrick Meek. Rubio raised and spent about $21 million, Crist chipped in $13 million of his own, and Meek dropped $9 million on the race. Outside groups filled in the rest as Rubio took 49 percent of the vote, 20 points ahead of Crist.

Massachusetts Senate, 2012: $77 million

From the moment Sen. Scott Brown (R) won a special election to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s seat in deep blue Massachusetts, he was a marked man. And Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: Mnuchin, Schumer in talks to strike short-term relief deal | Small businesses struggling for loans | Treasury IG sends Dems report on handling of Trump tax returns Trump says Obama knows 'something that you don't know' about Biden Senators push for changes to small business aid MORE was the one marking him. Warren, in her first run for public office, raised $42 million, while Brown shelled out $35 million defending himself.

Outside groups spent only about $8 million on the seat, a relative pittance compared to a battleground like Missouri. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, perhaps reading the writing on the wall, spent almost nothing on a seat they didn’t think they could defend. Warren beat Brown, but by a 7-point margin — at the same time President Barack Obama beat former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Zoom, grocery delivery, self-isolation: How lawmakers are surviving coronavirus Outgoing inspector general says Trump fired him for carrying out his 'legal obligations' MORE by a 23-point margin.

Georgia’s 6th District, 2017: $48 million

When President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal Trump says he'll look into small business loan program restricting casinos MORE tapped Rep. Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceDNC chair says app used in Iowa won't be used in other primary states Hillicon Valley: Iowa chaos highlights misinformation threat | Officials blame app for delayed results | Company offers 'regret' | Nevada officials drop plans to use app | Ohio ramps up election security Company behind Iowa Democratic caucus app expresses 'regret' MORE (R) as his first Secretary of Health and Human Services, he triggered the most expensive fight over a U.S. House district in American history. The Democratic nominee, Jon Ossoff, pulled in $30 million — more than many Senate nominees are able to raise — while Republican nominee Karen HandelKaren Christine HandelConservative women's group rolls out new GOP endorsements for 2020 The most expensive congressional races of the last decade Georgia ready for unpredictable Senate race MORE pulled in more than $8 million.

Republican groups dropped $14 million defining Ossoff, while Democrats spent millions more against Handel. Handel held on to carry the suburban Atlanta district by a slim 3-point margin — but she lost her seat the next year to Rep. Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathBrady PAC endorses Biden, plans to spend million in 2020 Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins Warren endorsed by Black Lives Matter co-founder's Black to the Future Action Fund MORE (D). 

California’s 39th District, 2018: $36 million

Gil CisnerosGilbert (Gil) Ray CisnerosMORE won the Mega Millions lottery — and he used the money to win a House seat as well. Cisneros, making his first run for public office, wrote his campaign a $9 million check in his bid to replace retiring Rep. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceGil Cisneros to face Young Kim in rematch of 2018 House race in California The most expensive congressional races of the last decade Mystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia MORE (R), while opponent Young Kim (R), a former state assemblywoman, raised $2 million on her own.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, which backs Republicans, made Cisneros their top target of the 2018 cycle, dumping $9 million on television spots. The Democratic-backed House Majority PAC spent $3 million of their own on pricey Los Angeles airtime, making the race the most expensive House contest in California history.

California’s 48th District, 2018: $35 million

Rep. Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherDemocrat Harley Rouda advances in California House primary Lawyers to seek asylum for Assange in France: report Rohrabacher tells Yahoo he discussed pardon with Assange for proof Russia didn't hack DNC email MORE (R) was another victim of the Democratic wave that swept over California, thanks in no small part to the $11 million that Democratic outside groups dumped on his head. Businessman Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaDemocrat Harley Rouda advances in California House primary Let engineers make engineering decisions on local infrastructure projects EPA pushes back on Oversight review of ethics program MORE (D) benefitted from all that spending, and he pulled in an impressive $7 million of his own.

Rouda, who had never before sought public office, barely escaped the all-party primary, finishing in second place by just over 100 votes. In November, he helped complete the Democratic sweep in Orange County, taking 53.6 percent of the vote against Rohrabacher.

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Washington’s 8th District, 2018: $33 million

Democrats spent years trying to beat Rep. Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertBottom Line The most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lymphedema Treatment Act would provide a commonsense solution to a fixable problem MORE (R) in a suburban and exurban Seattle district. So when he retired, the race to replace him was guaranteed to be costly. Seven outside groups spent more than $1 million each on the race, and first-time candidate Kim SchrierKimberly (Kim) Merle SchrierWashington state lawmakers press Boeing to accept aid Overnight Health Care: House panel advances legislation on surprise medical bills | Planned Parenthood, ACLU sue over Trump abortion coverage rule | CDC identifies 13th US patient with coronavirus House panel advances bipartisan surprise billing legislation despite divisions MORE (D) pulled in $8 million for her campaign.

The odds were against former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R), who narrowly lost two gubernatorial campaigns in Washington over the years. This time, he raised $4.8 million — but it wasn’t enough. Schrier won the district with 52 percent of the vote.

New York’s 19th District, 2018: $32 million

Antonio DelgadoAntonio Ramon DelgadoHispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements M ad buy praises swing-district Democrats' environmental work Democrats plot new approach to win over rural voters MORE didn’t make it as a rapper, so he decided to try his hand at politics. And in his first run for public office, Delgado raised a whopping $9 million — more than twice as much as Rep. John FasoJohn James FasoThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority GOP House super PAC targets two freshman Dems with new ads MORE (R), who pulled in almost $4 million.

The Congressional Leadership Fund and the House Majority PAC each made the Hudson Valley district a top priority, spending millions on a seat both Barack Obama and President Trump won. Delgado outlasted Faso by a five-point margin.