SALT LAKE CITY — The fierce battle for a U.S. House in Utah where Democrat Ben McAdams narrowly unseated Republican Mia Love was one of the most expensive races in Utah history, new figures show.
About $11.4 million was spent by the two candidates and outside political groups, according to new information from the Federal Election Commission.
About $2.7 million of that amount came from PACs and Super PACs, according to analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics. There was more outside spending backing Love than McAdams: $1.7 million to nearly $993,000. The totals cover from early 2017 through November 2018.
The total surpasses the $9.4 million spent in the 2012 race for the same House seat, when incumbent Democrat Jim Matheson barely held off Love in her first run for Congress.
The season of heavy campaigning in Utah has gotten longer with the advent of mail-in balloting across much of the state, which gives voters nearly a month to cast their ballots rather than a single day, said Jason Perry with the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.
“Candidates have to start messaging earlier and earlier,” Perry said. “The commercials, the most expensive part of every campaign, are starting earlier in the process.”
And once it begins, they can’t afford to let up, especially in an acrimonious contest like the one between Love and McAdams, he said.
Spending in Love’s two victories over Democrat Doug Owens, in 2014 and 2016, didn’t trigger the same level of outside spending.
McAdams, a Democratic mayor of Salt Lake County, defeated Love by fewer than 700 votes in a race that took two weeks to sort out in deep-red Utah. The district that covers Salt Lake City suburbs stretching south along the Wasatch Front to Sanpete County in central Utah has long been the state’s most competitive district.
Love raised and spent more during the two-year election cycle, partly because McAdams didn’t formally announce his candidacy until October 2017.
Love spent about $5.4 million, with McAdams at $3.2 million.
Because candidates were well-known before the race, they were able to raise money and had plenty of cash to spend, Perry said.
“This was an expensive race because these were two pretty strong candidates really going at [it in] the most contentious race we have seen,” Perry said
Both ended up with very little after the exhausting campaign. Love had $101,000 left as of Nov. 26. McAdams had $76,000.
The race ranks in the middle range for competitive races around the country, said Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics. It will definitely finish in the top 100 of 435 races, he said.
For example, some $36 million was spent in the race for an open southern California congressional seat long held by retiring Republican Rep. Ed Royce, Mayersohn said.
Among the outside groups that spent on the Love-McAdams race, the Republican-backing Congressional Leadership Fund spent the most among the PACs in support of Love” nearly $1.2 million.
Among the groups backing McAdams, the Patriot Majority USA spent the most: $676,000. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $213,000.
Associated Press reporter Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this story.