The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Alaska — yes, tiny Alaska — could break the record for outside spending in a Senate race

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, right, is seen through the windows of the Petersburg High School Library on Oct. 10 as he speaks at an open house he hosted to meet supporters and answer questions from voters in Petersburg, Alaska. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

The 2014 election has been decided, in large part, not by candidates or even national party committees, but instead by outside groups with ties to neither.

In fact, a new analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University law school shows that these groups have now spent $328 million on the top 11 Senate races in the country — nearly $30 million per race, on average.

Just how big is that number? Well, prior to this year's Senate races, the most that outside groups had spent on a single state's Senate race was $52 million, in the 2012 Virginia Senate contest.

Without even having all of the late spending in the 2014 campaign tallied, three states have already surpassed that record total: North Carolina ($78 million), Colorado ($64 million) and Iowa ($56 million). Here's how that looks:

What's most striking, though, is one of the states with a chance to become No. 4 to break the previous record: Alaska.

Alaska is a very small state (population-wise), meaning it is generally cheaper to buy airtime — in large part because there aren't many other races competing for said airtime, but also because fewer viewers consume that advertising. And yes, despite being one of the country's smallest states, it currently sits at No. 6 all-time and could somehow surpass the previous record for outsider spending for a U.S. Senate race.

This is the new electoral paradigm in American politics. These races are increasingly being run and messages are being driven by people who not only aren't national parties or candidates; they are legally forbidden from coordinating with those parties and candidates.

More and more, it's looking like the candidates will become incidental to the campaigns that are being run around them.