TRENTON - New Jersey legislative candidates could have done a lot with the state-record $82.45 million they raised for this year's elections.

They could have given a dollar to everyone living in Germany, bought Vincent van Gogh's

Portrait of Dr. Gachet

, or rebuilt New Orleans' international airport.

Instead, they spent most of it - $68.8 million - just trying to get elected.

New Jersey legislative candidates spent money at record levels during this year's elections, including three losing Democrats in the 12th District, in central New Jersey, who spent $5 million in the fall election, according to campaign-finance reports released yesterday by the state.

The candidates raised $50.25 million and spent $43.4 million in the general election and raised $32.2 million and spent $25.4 million on the June primary.

Both are record highs, according to state election records.

In 2003, the last time all 120 seats were up, legislative candidates raised a then-record $48 million and spent $40 million in the general election and raised $27 million and spent $16.7 million in the primary.

Democrats spent about $13 million in the fall on the four most competitive districts - the First, Second and Eighth in South Jersey and the 12th - or about four times as much as the Republicans in those districts.

The Democrats who ran this year in the 12th District - Sen. Ellen Karcher, Assemblyman Michael Panter, and Assembly candidate Amy Mallet - lost to Republicans who spent about $885,000 on the fall election.

Karcher spent more than any candidate in the fall at $2.6 million, or $115 per vote.

She lost to Republican Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, who received 54 percent of the vote and spent $444,000, or $16 per vote.

Democrats offset Karcher's loss by winning two South Jersey Senate seats and will control the Senate, 23-17, when the new Legislature convenes Jan. 8.

Democrats will control the Assembly by 48-32.