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O’Donnell’s Senate campaign set Delaware spending record

WASHINGTON — Delaware Republican Christine O’Donnell set a state record by spending more than $6.1 million in her losing Senate campaign against Democrat Chris Coons.

Delaware elections commissioner Elaine Manlove said she is confident no one has spent more in the state’s history. Federal campaign finance data compiled by CQ MoneyLine going back to the 1980s show the next highest tally came in the 2008 cycle, when former Sen. Joe Biden, now the vice president, spent $4.9 million. The third-highest was $4.4 million by former Sen. William Roth in 2000.

O’Donnell’s fundraising — roughly double Coons’ — is remarkable for a long-shot candidate who consistently trailed Coons throughout the campaign.

Overall, she took in more than $7 million, the vast majority of it in the final two months of the campaign. And she left nearly $1 million unspent, even though she frequently complained that she wasn’t getting enough help from the Republican Party.

Campaign manager Matt Moran said campaign-related expenses are still being paid and that some of the money came in so late the campaign couldn’t spend it in time.

The campaign also is reserving several hundred thousand dollars for legal expenses, he said, to defend against Federal Election Commission complaints that O’Donnell misspent campaign money for personal use, including to pay part of her rent.

The tea party favorite was flooded with contributions after she stunned the GOP by winning the Sept. 15 primary over longtime Rep. Mike Castle. High-profile endorsements from GOP leaders such as Sarah Palin also helped.

Her primary win was one in a series of victories by upstart candidates against Republican insiders, and she quickly tapped into a national network of conservative activists.

Coons, who was sworn in as senator last month to fill the seat long held by Biden, reported raising more than $3.6 million and spending nearly $3.3 million.

O’Donnell announced last week that she is writing a political book to be published in August 2011.