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Nearly $3 million and counting.

That’s how much money outside interest groups have spent ahead of the Feb. 26 party primary for Illinois’ 2nd District special congressional election.

The bulk of the funding — more than $2.5 million through Tuesday — has been spent by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun super PAC Independence USA PAC, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The organization is joined by four other political committees that have also bought ads that advocate for or against one of the three main Democratic candidates battling to fill the seat, vacated by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., who is facing federal felony charges.

Only about one in 10 House races attracted as much or more outside attention during the entire two-year 2012 election cycle.

The first congressional contest of the 2014 election cycle may be emblematic of a new norm in House races, where cash-flush super PACs and politically active nonprofit groups easily outspend candidates. And given the Illinois race and the GOP intra-party fights in 2012, spending won’t be reserved for the general election, either.

In the Illinois 2nd District race, outside groups combined spent $2.7 million on independent expenditures through Tuesday, a figure that almost certainly will rise between now and next week’s primary.

Nearly $2 million has gone to ads and other efforts opposing former Rep. Deborah Halvorson, a gun rights supporter, who faces former Cook County Chief Administrative Officer Robin Kelly and Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale.

Independence USA PAC spent more than $730,000 on Friday to fund a media buy supporting Kelly, federal expenditure records show. On Sunday, Illinois state Sen. Toi Hutchinson dropped out and endorsed Kelly.

Halvorson, who has accused Bloomberg of attempting to buy the election, had spent $34,560 as of Feb. 6, her most recent round of campaign disclosures indicate. Kelly spent $204,124, Beale $100,423 and Hutchinson $78,205.

In contrast, Independence USA PAC spent $1.2 million through Feb. 6, or about three times that of all candidates combined. Consequently, the majority of broadcast ads and mailers in the primary contest have come from a group with no direct ties to the district, not from the candidates running to represent it.

The general election is scheduled for April 9. Given the district’s political makeup, the Democratic primary winner is virtually assured of victory.

Jackson was charged last week by federal prosecutors with crimes related to misspending more than $750,000 in campaign funds. Jackson’s wife Sandi has been charged with falsifying tax returns. Both are expected to plead guilty and are scheduled to appear in court in Washington, D.C., today, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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