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Coming soon to a TV or website near you: A record-breaking, expensive 2018 election

Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- By all accounts, political spending for the November 2018 election will shatter every record.

With antipathy toward President Donald Trump energizing Democrats, and Republicans intent on maintaining their congressional majorities, campaign watchers expect a chart-topping year that will easily surpass the $3.84 billion that candidates, political parties and outside groups spent in 2014 when Republicans took full control of Congress.

It's all reminiscent of 2010, when motivated conservative activists helped Republicans win a majority in the House during then-President Barack Obama's first term.

"This looks more like the tea party election, except from the left, than it does the more sedate 2014 election," said Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending. The tea party, a grass-roots conservative movement, became a big player in the 2010 election.

This year, Bryner said, "there are candidates on both sides already raising lots of money, but generally speaking there's just a lot more Democratic challengers."

Democrats are trying to regain control of both chambers of Congress for the first time since the 2010 election, and money matters, said Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, a Washington watchdog group.

"A challenger needs to have enough money to be heard in a district and to break through the communication advantage that an incumbent has," Malbin said. "It's not that more money causes victory but money is part of the package the produces victory."

The 2016 presidential race illustrated how there's more involved than bulging coffers, notably a candidate and a message. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and a super PAC supporting his candidacy raised more than $120 million for his presidential bid, but Bush got nowhere and dropped out in February.

Democrats today are buoyed by what they see as a prime opportunity to take back the House. As of Sept. 30, a record number of Democratic challengers -- some 391 -- had raised a not insignificant $5,000 each. Of those 391, 145 have already raised at least $100,000.

Democrats need a gain of at least 24 House seats to take control of the chamber. There are about 60 Republican-held seats that appear competitive at this point, including several in California, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Kansas.

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