Each of the five most expensive House races ever took place in 2018

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In California’s 39th congressional district, Democrat Gil Cisneros won the most expensive non-special House race in history (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)


The battle for control of the House led to unprecedented spending, by both candidates and super PACs, particularly in contested toss-up races.

Excluding special elections, each of the five highest-spending House races ever — including money spent by candidates and outside groups — were held this cycle. Four of those five races were rated as toss-ups.

With nearly $37 million spent in total, the battle for the open seat in California’s 39th District takes the cake for the most expensive non-special election House race ever.

Winning Democrat Gil Cisneros, a Navy war veteran and Mega Millions lottery winner, poured more than $9 million of his own money into his campaign and raised $2.8 million.

The Paul Ryan-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) made Cisneros its top target during the general election, buying $6.2 million in ads — including several roughly-$1 million ad buys in October — attacking the Democrat.

Deciding that the best defense is a good offense, the Nancy Pelosi-aligned House Majority PAC (HMP) spent $2.8 million in negative media buys against Republican Young Kim, most of which came during the same time as CLF’s spending spree. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) dropped another $2 million into the race to help Cisneros.

In California’s 48th District, losing incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was on the wrong side of $11 million in outside spending, the most in opposition spending of any non-special election House candidate in U.S. history. The 15-term congressman endured attacks from almost every major liberal super PAC in existence, these ads focused particularly on his denial of climate change and his frequent trips to Russia.

Among the environmental-focused super PACs, Independence USA spent a race-high $4.5 million in attack ads against Rohrabacher.

Worried about the prospects of a two-Republican race in California’s top-two system and eager to face off with the unpopular Rohrabacher, mainstream liberal groups had it out for Republican primary challenger Scott Baugh. The DCCC spent $1.7 million opposing Baugh and HMP added $833,856.

Victorious Democrat Harley Rouda got just 17.3 percent of the vote during the primary — 125 votes more than fellow Democrat Hans Keirstead — but received 52.9 percent in the general election. He raised nearly $8 million to Rohrabacher’s $2.7 million.

In another toss-up race won by the Democrat, Washington’s 8th District race drew nearly $19 million in outside spending. Seven outside groups spent $1 million or more.

Democratic Rep-elect Kim Schrier was aided by $12 million in outside spending and outraised Republican Dino Rossi $8.1 million to $4.8 million.

New York’s 19th District race was yet another example of a cash-flush Democrat beating an incumbent Republican in a toss-up battle. Rep.-elect Antonio Delgado raised more than $9 million to Republican Rep. John Faso’s $3.9 million.

Like in each race mentioned above, CLF spent roughly $4 million or more in unsuccessful attack ads against the Democrat.

Pennsylvania’s 1st District was one of the few toss-up House races where CLF and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spent heavily and saw their Republican candidate win. The NRCC had by far the worst win rate of any major outside group this cycle.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick barely fended off a challenge from Philadelphia multi-millionaire Scott Wallace, who self-financed his campaign to the tune of $12.8 million.

Just missing the cut, this cycle’s California 25th District race comes in sixth all-time for total spending at $30.7 million. Democratic winner Katie Hill raised more than $8 million and was aided by more than $12 million in outside spending.

The previous record holder was Florida’s 18th District race in 2012, where $29.6 million was spent in total. Incumbent Republican Rep. Allen West lost the race by a razor-thin margin, despite raising a stunning $19.4 million.

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