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BIG-TIME SPENDING LED TO BIG-TIME WINS

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Spend more, win more. For congressional contenders, it was a rule to live by this year. Nine of 10 candidates who were able to follow it walked away victorious.

The large House freshman class was living proof. The better fund-raisers managed to build moats around once-vulnerable campaign castles, while the few who lagged in dollars ultimately fell to better financed challengers.Republican Jon Fox kept his House seat in suburban Philadelphia by a mere 10 votes in unofficial returns after outspending his Democratic challenger two-to-one and beginning the final three weeks of the election with a $370,000 advantage in cash on hand.

Georgia's Saxby Chambliss, another freshman locked in a tight race, emerged with a victory after outspending his Democratic opponent four-to-one. Rhode Island Democrat Patrick Kennedy had an easier re-election after outspending his challenger $1.1 million to $12,400.

But Chicago's Michael Flanagan, a "giant killer" in 1994 when he toppled House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, found himself on the short side of the money - and the vote. Flanagan was ousted by a Democrat who outspent him two-to-one.

And North Carolina lost two Republican freshmen, including former Raleigh police chief Fred Heineman, who was outspent by more than $150,000 by eventual winner David Price, the Democrat that Heineman ousted two years earlier.

In another ouster, Republican Chris Cannon outspent Democratic incumbent Bill Orton about three-to-one on his way to capturing a Utah seat.

Republicans were quick to cite their money advantage in many races as a key reason they maintained control of Congress despite a $35 million campaign by unions designed to aid Democrats.

"Our members went out and raised the resources," said Rep. Bill Paxon of New York, who chaired the House GOP fund-raising committee.

Paxon said the committee increased its aid to candidates sixfold - to $32 million - this election, and Speaker Newt Gingrich raised more than $100 million on his own for candidates.

With a half-dozen races still undecided Thursday, a computer analysis of election returns and Federal Election Commission records showed that House candidates who headed into the final three weeks with the most in combined spending and cash on hand won 93 percent of the time.

The House winners on average spent $4 for every vote they got - the losers $2.80. In all, winning candidates outspent the men and women they defeated $212.9 million to $89.9 million.

With a few notable exceptions, big spenders fared almost as well in the Senate, winning 82 percent of the time. One race, in Oregon, was still too close to call.

The figures were nearly identical to the past several elections, a fact that some cite as evidence the frequent discussion of campaign finance reform has generated little change in candidates' reliance on big money.

"If this election cycle shows us anything it is that without cash you are not going to mount a viable race and your chances of winning are somewhere between slim and nil," said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which studies campaign finances.

Nebraska businessman Charles Hagel, a Republican making his first bid for elective office, knocked off Democratic former Gov. Ben Nelson in a Senate race after spending $1 million more than his counterpart.

In Senate contests in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Iowa, Democrats with slight to modest edges in spending pulled away from their GOP opponents. And West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller coasted to victory after outspending his challenger, a part-time nurse, $1.9 million to $1,000.

Republican incumbents who were far better funded won re-election in all but one race. Senate Commerce Committee chairman Larry Pressler lost his seat in South Dakota to Democrat Tim Johnson despite more than a $1 million fund-raising advantage.

A pair of millionaire challengers, Georgia Republican Guy Millner and Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, ran against the grain. Both lost after injecting millions of their own money into their bids.

But their spending, which dwarfed that of their opponents, was widely credited with narrowing races against better-known competitors.