Races in recent years have come close to breaching the $100 million level. The Senate race in Massachusetts between Scott Brown (R) and Elizabeth Warren (D) carried an $82 million price tag, making it the most expensive contest in Senate history. (The massive spending in that race is all the more remarkable when you consider that neither Brown nor Warren had significant personal money to spend on it.) For more than a decade before the Massachusetts race, the 2000 Senate fight in New York between Hillary Clinton (D) and Rick Lazio (R) held the record for spending at $70 million.
There’s good reason to believe that the race between McConnell (R) and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) could blow past those past records.
Let’s walk through the numbers.
In 2008, McConnell spent just north of $21 million — including a $2 million personal loan — to beat Democrat Bruce Lunsford, who pumped nearly $8.6 million of his own money into the losing effort.
McConnell is ahead of his 2008 fundraising pace, having collected nearly $14 million for the 2014 election, and is sitting on a campaign war chest of $9.6 million.
And, unlike in 2008, McConnell will face a primary fight, from wealthy businessman Matt Bevin. While it’s unclear how much of his own money Bevin will spend, those who have done some digging into his wealth — he has yet to file financial disclosure statements for his Senate bid — believe that he has the capacity to put several million dollars into the race.
McConnell, clearly concerned about the Bevin challenge, has already run two TV ads ahead of the primary, and you can bet there are lots more where those came from. It’s hard to see how McConnell escapes the primary for anything less than $5 million.
In fact, McConnell allies and other Republican observers well versed in fundraising estimate that the senator will end up raising and spending somewhere between $30 million and $35 million battling Bevin in the primary and Grimes in the general election.
Speaking of Grimes, she has never raised anything close to the amount of money we are talking about. But she has the best fundraising tool any Democrat in the country could hope for: Mitch McConnell.
Democrats loathe McConnell — his comment that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” became a rallying cry during the 2012 presidential campaign — and they will be more than ready to give to whoever is running against him.
So, how much is that? The closest analogue to Grimes’s situation is that of Sharron Angle, the Republican nominee who took on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 2010. Angle, who raised next to nothing to win the Republican primary, wound up spending $28 million in her unsuccessful challenge of Reid. (Reid spent $31 million.)