SALT LAKE CITY — A hotly contested congressional race narrowly won by Democrat Jim Matheson over Republican Mia Love was one of the most expensive in Utah history, new figures show.
A combined $11.2 million was spent by the two candidates and outside political groups, according to new information from the Federal Election Commission.
About $6.6 million of that amount came from PACs and super PACs. The totals cover a two-year period from early 2011 through November 2012.
"This was unprecedented," said Tim Chambless, a professor at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. "We have never seen a race so expensive in Utah."
The only other $10 million-plus race in Utah history was the 1992 U.S. Senate race, Chambless said. That year, Republican Robert Bennett spent millions of dollars to beat Joe Cannon in the primary and Democrat Wayne Owens in the general election.
Matheson, 52, won his sixth term in Congress by defeating Love by 768 votes. Matheson is a fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrat and son of a popular governor.
Love, 36, is the mayor of Saratoga Springs and daughter of Haitian immigrants. Republicans not only backed her with millions but also gave her a coveted speaking slot at the Republican National Convention, where she became one of the party's faces of diversity. Love is black.
In terms of money spent from their campaigns, Matheson slightly outspent Love — $2.35 million to $2.25 million.
But there was more outside spending backing Love than Matheson — $3.4 million to $3.2 million.
Federal records also show $12 million was spent in Utah's U.S. Senate race won by Republican Orrin Hatch, who spent $9.9 million from his coffers while outside groups spent nearly $1.8 million on his behalf.
Hatch's opponent in the general election, Democrat Scott Howell, spent only $364,700 and did not get any financial backing from outside groups. Hatch defeated Howell by 35 percentage points to earn his seventh term in the U.S. Senate.15 comments on this story
The results of the 2010 elections, when many mainstream Republicans were knocked off or threatened by Tea Party candidates, likely led Hatch to take nothing for granted, Chambless said. With a history of raising plenty of money, it wasn't difficult for Hatch to bring in money this election cycle, Chambless said.
Hatch still had nearly $1 million in his campaign account as of Nov. 17, the federal figures show.
Utah's other three Congressional races did not draw the same attention. Spending did not exceed $800,000 in any of those races.