The 2020 Campaign Is the Most Expensive Ever (By a Lot)

The total cost of the races for the White House, the Senate and the House is expected to hit nearly $14 billion.

By Shane Goldmacher

The 2020 election has blown past previous records to become the most expensive campaign in American history, with the final tally for the battle for the White House and control of the Senate and the House expected to hit nearly $14 billion, according to new projections made by the Center for Responsive Politics.

That is double the previous high for federal races set just four years ago.

The biggest driver of political spending this year has been — no surprise — the presidential race, as enormous sums have, in particular, poured into supporting Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s bid to oust President Trump. Their contest alone is projected to cost $6.6 billion — more than was spent on the White House race and every congressional campaign combined in 2016.

The surge of spending is powered by donations at both ends of the giving spectrum as small donors, particularly online, are playing an increasingly central role in funding campaigns. At the same time, billionaires and multimillionaires are writing enormous checks to super PACs.

Much of the spending has gone into television ads: $1.8 billion worth of presidential race ads just this year, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. The total cost of the 2016 presidential campaign, even including the primaries, was $2.4 billion.

Mr. Biden’s campaign committee, which had raised $938 million as of Oct. 14, is on track to be the first to surpass $1 billion in fund-raising. The fund-raising hauls by both Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, when combined with party money, already far exceed that threshold.

But it’s not just the presidential race sending costs to new heights.

Eight of the 10 most expensive Senate races ever are unfolding in 2020, including in North Carolina, where the total spent between the two candidates, Senator Thom Tillis, the Republican incumbent, and Cal Cunningham, the Democratic challenger, has already passed $272 million.

That is one of four Senate races to have crossed the $200 million mark this year — the others are in Iowa, South Carolina and Arizona — something that had never before happened in a contest without a self-funding candidate.

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