A tale of two campaigns: Carmen Anthony for McMahon, Costco for Blumenthal

WASHINGTON–Connecticut’s contest for U.S. Senate now ranks as the most expensive Congressional race in the country, with the two candidates spending a combined $48.4 million so far this election, according to a new tally by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In just the first two weeks of October, Democrat Richard Blumenthal and Republican Linda McMahon together spent more than $4 million, campaign reports show. And since then, McMahon has dumped another $1 million of her own money into her campaign war chest.

Where is all that campaign cash going? Ads, ads, and more ads, of course. But then there’s campaign consultants, catering, polls, bumper stickers, and so much else.

A review of the most recent campaign reports–which cover just that two-week window in early October–offer a snapshot of a spending extravaganza.

We’ll start with McMahon, the former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO who has vowed to spend whatever it takes to win the race. Her campaign bill so far–about $42 million–accounts for more than 85 percent of the total spent so far in the Senate campaign. (Blumenthal has spent $6.2 million.)

From Oct. 1 through Oct. 13 alone, McMahon spent $2.3 million on her campaign. That includes $82,362 on research and polling services, $156,227 for recorded phone calls, $787,285 on printing and postage, and $25,565 for her campaign consultants.

She also spent nearly $125,000 on campaign paraphernalia like bumper stickers ($4,402) and T-shirts ($66,406) in just those two weeks.

And if her reports are any indication, her election-night party will be an elaborate affair. Her campaign paid $10,000 to rent the Hartford Convention Center, and staffers have spent more than $16,000 on “staging” expenses.

Taking previous Senate elections into account, McMahon ranks No. 2 in terms of the biggest-spending self-funded candidates, according to Dave Levinthal, of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.

Levinthal said McMahon trails only Jon Corzine, who spent $60 million of his own money in 2000 to win a Senate seat from New Jersey. “And we still have a lot of reports left to come in before we get to a final number,” he noted.

He predicted that McMahon will even eclipse other self-funded presidential candidates, except perhaps Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who poured more than $63 million of his own fortune into an unsuccessful 1992 presidential run. McMahon is already inching up on Mitt Romney, who spent $44.6 million of his own money on his failed 2008 White House bid.

Blumenthal’s spending looks paltry by comparison, although it would probably be eye-popping in a more traditional race where both candidates were relying on fundraising to fuel their bids.

Blumenthal, who had lagged far behind McMahon until recently, burned through more than $1.7 million in the first two weeks of October.

As with McMahon, his biggest expense by far was for advertising, and he actually outstripped her in this period. Blumenthal’s campaign spent nearly $1.6 million on ads in early October, compared to $1.02 million for McMahon.

Blumenthal also dropped $40,400 for polling and more than $60,000 on payroll. And he had one major expense that McMahon didn’t: fundraising.

Blumenthal forked out $25,000 to consultants to help him raise money. And he spent $2,734 to buy an email list from Hillary Clinton’s defunct presidential campaign, presumably to ask those Clinton supporters for money. (He’s raised about $5 million in individual and political committee contributions so far this election, and he’s loaned his campaign $2.25 million.)

If there’s any indication in these latest reports that Blumenthal’s campaign is a shoe-string operation compared to McMahon’s, it’s in their respective catering expenses.

She spent $11,029 in catering in early October, including $5,622 at the Carmen Anthony Fish House in Wethersfield and $4,637 at Caperberry in White Plains, N.Y.

Blumenthal, by contrast, spent a total of $688.91 on catering in that time. His campaign’s food outlets of choice? Dunkin’ Donuts, Costco Wholesale, and Stop & Shop.