WASHINGTON — About $9.6 million — or more than $32 a vote — was spent in the 13th Congressional District race last year when Republican Rodney Davis defeated Democrat David Gill, federal campaign disclosure records show.
The 13th District includes Champaign-Urbana, Decatur, Springfield and parts of Bloomington-Normal, and reaches down to some of the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.
Davis, who won the race by 1,002 votes (or 46.55 percent to 46.21 percent), spent $1.341 million, to $1.322 million spent by Gill.
The biggest share of campaign spending, however, was by so-called "independent" or outside groups, which poured $6.9 million into the race. Those groups, which are not supposed to coordinate their spending with the Davis and Gill campaigns, included the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Republican National Campaign Committee, the American Action Network, the National Rifle Association and the Service Employees International Union. The largest share of the independent group spending, or about $3.6 million, was for negative advertising aimed at Gill.
You can expect more of the same in future 13th District races, said Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political studies and public affairs at the University of Illinois-Springfield.
"We have gone to a different level, in terms of the money," he said. "It's really about big money in general, but those independent expenditures and the party money just overwhelms whatever the candidates do. They have to raise money, but what's raised and spent inside the campaign is less important in terms of the way this trending. And I can't imagine that we're going to have a kinder, gentler world in 2014."
There are only so many highly competitive districts where either party can win in a given year, Redfield said.
"There just aren't that many targets of opportunity. He's going to have to perform very well in two elections and build a lot of that non-ideological, I'm-your-congressman casework stuff," he said of Davis. "He could put himself in a position where it would be hard to recruit a candidate against him or to raise money against him, but I would think he's going to have to win two elections before he gets to that point."
Redfield predicted that Davis likely will face at least two more tough, big-spending elections in the congressional district.
"Davis may have to take some tough votes. If the House puts out a budget that is supposed to be balanced in 10 years and does some significant things to Medicare and Social Security, and Davis is on that kind of a roll call, there is going to be ammunition there," he said.
Although the overall spending was far more than had been spent in previous congressional races in the Champaign-Urbana area (Gill and retired Rep. Tim Johnson spent $412,824 in the 2010 race in the old 15th District), it was nowhere near the most expensive congressional race nationally; it wasn't even the most expensive race in Illinois.
The most expensive race nationally was in Florida's 18th District, where Democrat Patrick Murphy upended incumbent Rep. Allen West. More than $29.6 million was spent by the candidates and outside groups in that contest.
(Coincidentally, West is set to speak Saturday at the Champaign County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day luncheon.)
In Illinois, far more money was spent in the 11th District race between incumbent Republican Joe Walsh and Democrat Tammy Duckworth ($15.4 million), and the 10th District contest featuring Democrat Brad Schneider and incumbent Republican Rep. Bob Dold ($15.1 million) than in the Davis-Gill race. In both of those cases, the Democratic challenger won.
The race between Davis and Gill was the only one of six big-spending congressional contests in Illinois last year where the Republican candidate prevailed.
Separately — not counting the independent group spending — Davis spent $9.78 for each of the 137,034 votes he received on Nov. 6, and Gill spent $9.72 for each of the 136,032 votes he got.
The latest campaign disclosure reports filed by Davis and Gill, covering the post-election period of Nov. 27 to Dec. 31, 2012, show the advantages of winning. While Gill reported no contributions during the period, Davis reported receiving $65,323. Among his new supporters were the Midwest Region Laborers' Political League of Springfield, $5,000; the National Cable and Telecommunications Association Political Action Committee, $3,000; the Comcast Corp. PAC, the National Venture Capital Association PAC and the American Association of Clinical Urologists, $2,500 each; and the California Dairies PAC, the Honeywell International PAC and the RockTenn PAC affiliated with the RockTenn paper company in Georgia, $2,000 each.
As of Dec. 31, Davis' campaign had $17,427 on hand (as well as $59,000 in debts owed to polling and advertising contractors), while Gill's had $5,318 on hand (and $4,081 owed to its media consultant).
Gill has indicated that he may run again in 2014. In a holiday email to supporters, he wrote, "None of us know what the future holds, but I promise that in whatever arena, I will continue to lend my voice to public discourse about issues that are dear to you and me."
He noted that President Barack Obama helped the five other Illinois Democrats win their congressional races last November, but that the president had no "coattails" in the 13th District.
"This was the third-closest U.S. House race in the nation and narrowest loss by any Democratic congressional candidate," Gill wrote. "Unlike the five other contested seats in Illinois, where President Obama carried those districts by margins ranging from 1.3 percent to 17 percent, Illinois' 13th Congressional District proved to be a true toss-up, with President Obama also losing the district by 3/10ths of a percent."