How costly is NC's US Senate campaign?

U.S. Senate candidates and their allies have spent at least $111 million on this year's campaign, which would add up to roughly $16 per registered voter.

Posted Updated
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — So, how much money has washed through North Carolina as part of the U.S. Senate campaign?
WRAL News has been tracking the broadcast television commercials aired on behalf of Democratic Sen.  Kay Hagan and Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis. While it's reasonable to assume that those campaign ads will account for somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the total campaign spending in the state, there's more money being spent on get-out-the-vote operations, direct mail, polls and campaign staff. 
The Center for Responsive Politics keeps a running tally of all spending reported to the Federal Elections Commission. As of Monday, the CRP has documented $111 million in spending on the race, nearly $30 million from the candidates themselves. The rest came from outside groups – nonprofits, political groups and others that have had to report their spending. 

That $111 million is a floor, not a ceiling. The candidates have yet to report some of their spending, and some spending by outside nonprofit groups falls outside of reporting requirements. So, the total spending on the race is almost certainly millions of dollars more than what the CRP can document. 

So, what does that $111 million in spending mean? 

The Institute for Southern Studies took one crack at this question by asking what the cost per voter might be. 

Given $111 million in spending and 6.6 million registered voters in North Carolina, the cost per vote winds up around $16.76 per registered voter. Now, all 6.6 million registered voters won't show up to the polls, so the cost per vote cast will likely be double that figure. 

As the ISS observed, North Carolina's $111 million U.S. Senate campaign is the costliest in the nation but maybe not the most costly per voter. 

By using CRP data on spending in the 12 most competitive campaigns as rated by The Cook Political Report and voter registration figures from each state, we can get a rough cost per registered voter for each state. 

Alaska, a state with a relatively small population where it is costly to campaign, has the most eye-popping per-voter figure: $112.76. Much like the state itself, that number is something of an outlier. 

New Hampshire is next on the list, with candidates and their allies spending roughly $57.80 per registered Granite State voter. That's likely because much of the state falls into the expensive Boston media market. 

In fact, among these 12 hotly-contested Senate races, North Carolina ranks ninth in terms of per-person spending.

U.S. Senate campaign spending

Sources: Campaign spending data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Combined spending includes both money spent by candidates as well as money spent by outside interest groups. Number of registered voters supplied by secretaries of state or boards of elections for each state.



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