In the 33 years before his death, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young spent a total of $6.7 million on his campaigns. The race to succeed him has blown past $12 million. In three months.
The onslaught is fueled not by the candidates but by outside groups that have delivered $9 million in mostly negative ads and contributed to an emerging and dramatic shift in politics:
The death of the local campaign.
Republican David Jolly and Democrat Alex Sink are supporting actors in an arms war that has turned the race into a simplistic, hard-hitting and often misleading referendum. Sink is cast as a liberal puppet in love with Obamacare; Jolly is characterized as a slick lobbyist bent on destroying Social Security and Medicare.
The candidates, like others in competitive races increasingly drawing outside money, have harnessed these themes at the expense of highlighting parochial issues and presenting themselves in a positive light. At once they are helped and hemmed in by independent groups, which have made the contest the most expensive special House election in history.
"It's incredibly frustrating," said Jolly, who has publicly criticized some of the attacks his allies made on Sink. "You would be hard pressed to find a voter in Pinellas County, who doesn't already know Alex or I, that's been able to make an informed decision simply on the TV commercials."
A swing seat after decades of Republican control, the 13th Congressional District has attracted outsized attention because it is the only game in the country at the moment, each side prepping for November's bigger war.
Still, the torrent of money, a significant amount from groups that keep the identities of donors a secret, has exceeded all expectations.
Nearly 200 political commercials have aired on TV each day. Ads dog people online and clog mailboxes, a daily dose of accusations and unflattering photos. When one outside group drops a new ad, it is followed by a call to attack from a group on the other side, an endlessly escalating game of mutual destruction.