The Massachusetts Senate race between Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren has a shot at becoming the most expensive contest in the history of Congress this year.
At the moment, that record is held by the 2000 New York Senate race between Hillary Clinton and Rep. Rick Lazio (R). The two candidates raised and spent a combined $70 million in that contest — about $40 million by Lazio and $30 million by Clinton. (That year’s New Jersey Senate contest between Jon Corzine (D) and Bob Franks (R) was a close second, but almost all of the spending in that race came from Corzine’s pocket.)
There’s reason to believe Brown and Warren could top that $70 million mark.
So far, Brown raised $15.7 million for the campaign, while Warren, who entered the race during the latter stages of 2011, has pulled in nearly $9 million.
With the two approaching $25 million raised at the end of 2011, they would need to raise and spend another $45 million in 2012 to break the record.
That means they would need to combine to raise at least $11-12 million per quarter — a slight uptick from their fourth-quarter pace. (The election year includes three full quarters and a little more than one month of the fourth quarter, during which candidates will often raise as much as they do in a full quarter.)
Put simply: Even if it’s not probable, it’s possible.
Like the Clinton/Lazio race, the Massachusetts contest stirs the emotions (and wallets) of activists in both parties and across the country. Brown has been a conservative cause celebre since winning the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in a 2010 special election, and Warren is a liberal hero nationally as the driving force behind the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Much of whether Massachusetts can break New York’s Senate spending record depends on Warren, whose $5.7 million haul in the fourth quarter signaled that the record may be in jeopardy. She has raised a lot of money very quickly — including much via the web — but it remains to be seen whether she can not only keep that pace up but actually increase it. (She did pull in $1 million in a recent “moneybomb” event.)
While Warren is a touchstone for the ideological right and left, she is not yet in the same category as Clinton, whose time in the White House made her into one of the most beloved figures in the Democratic party and one of the most reviled in the GOP.
It will certainly help if the race remains as close as it has been. Warren closed the gap fast, and she has a lead in the most recent polling.
And given how close Republicans are to a Senate majority, it’s plausible that this race could also be pivotal in that battle, in which case even more money may flow to it.
Whether it breaks the record or not, it’s already clear that this race will be among the most expensive in history, which could make it one of the most high-profile Senate races in history.