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Tea Party Favorites Run in Costliest House Races: BGOV Barometer

GRAPHIC: Paige K. Connor/Bloomberg
GRAPHIC: Paige K. Connor/Bloomberg The BGOV Barometer shows races with candidates backed by Tea Party supporters are among the costliest congressional contests this year.

Tea Party favorites Allen West of Florida and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota are running for re-election in this year’s most expensive contests for the U.S. House of Representatives.

The BGOV Barometer shows Republican West and Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy have spent $14.4 million through Sept. 30, more than in any other contested congressional district in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The second-costliest House race, at $11.3 million, is between Bachmann and Democrat Jim Graves, chief executive officer of a Minneapolis-based hotel and restaurant management company.

Both West and Bachmann, who unsuccessfully sought her party’s presidential nomination, receive financial backing from supporters of the Tea Party movement, which favors lower taxes and cuts in some government spending.

“They’ve been able to galvanize such widespread support because they’ve made this a national message campaign more than a House campaign,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions and spending.

The most expensive Senate race this year is in Massachusetts, where Republican incumbent Scott Brown is trying to win a full six-year term and Elizabeth Warren, his Democratic opponent, is seeking to reclaim Edward Kennedy’s old seat for her party.

Competitive Races

Competitive races -- political analyst Charlie Cook rates the contests involving both Brown and West as “toss-ups” --are going to attract the most money, Democratic consultant Glenn Totten said. West alone has raised $15 million, about half in donations of $200 or less.

“You’re selling the concept that the people are going to write the checks are the ones who will actually make the difference in the race,” Totten said. “You can make a plausible case that with your funding, we can win this race.”

Third on the House list the contest between two Democratic incumbents in California, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, who were put into a single House district when congressional district lines were redrawn following the 2010 census. Between them they have spent $9.1 million.

Boehner Giving

The individual candidate who has spent the most, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, has no serious challenge for re-election. Rather, he has contributed $12 million to other Republican candidates and committees in an effort to keep his party’s majority in the House. Boehner has raised $21 million during this election and spent $20 million.

The most expensive Senate race pits Brown against Warren, a Harvard University law professor who served as an adviser to President Barack Obama and helped set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by the 2010 financial regulation law. They’ve spent $37.3 million through Sept. 30.

A Democratic victory in the commonwealth could make it easier for the party to hold the Senate in a year when Republicans need to pick up only four seats to gain the majority, or three if former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney wins the White House.

In Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown, the Democratic incumbent, and state Treasurer Josh Mandel have spent $26 million between them, the second most-expensive Senate race. Another incumbent Democrat, Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania, faces businessman Tom Smith, the Republican nominee, in a race that has cost $19.8 million so far. Smith has pumped $17 million of his own money into the campaign.

All that money is a reflection of the fact that both candidates in each race have a chance to win on Nov. 6.

“All people want to back winners,” Totten said. “When people give money to a political race, they are expecting they’re going to be looking at a newspaper headline saying their candidate won.”

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