With the potential for a historic shift in power in Tuesday's election, Montgomery County's four commissioner candidates have raised and spent record amounts of money.

Republicans Bruce L. Castor Jr. and Jenny Brown and Democrats Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards have collected a combined $2 million and spent nearly as much on television ads, last-minute campaign mailers, and get-out-the-vote efforts, according to their latest campaign filings.

And still the money rolls in. Since Monday, the campaigns have drawn in at least an additional $270,000 combined.

Those totals dwarf the amounts in neighboring suburban county races. Bucks County commissioner candidates, who had the next highest totals, have raised only $543,000.

The numbers make sense, said state Republican party chairman Rob Gleason, given that the Montgomery County race is one of the most closely watched in the state this year and could end with Democrats seizing control of the courthouse in this once GOP-dominated county for the first time in history.

"We're willing to spend whatever it takes," Gleason said at a recent campaign stop in Norristown. "Winning Montgomery County is No. 1 to me because it propels us into next year and the presidential race."

As of last week, no individual donor had given more to any suburban campaign than Gladwyne resident and charter-school magnate Vahan Gureghian, who since June has contributed $128,000 along with $32,000 in in-kind donations, including salaries for campaign staff, to Republicans Brown and Castor.

Gureghian, who has recently emerged as a major donor to statewide Republican causes, also gave more than $26,000 to the county's Republican committee and $120,000 to various candidates in the Lower Merion commissioners' race, bringing his total contribution to local GOP causes to well above $306,000 since the summer.

A representative for Gureghian did not return calls for comment last week. Some members of the party - including, at times, Castor - have questioned whether such largesse gives one donor too much say.

"I think that the party's candidate selection must be done by merit, and not done by who controls the purse strings," Castor, an incumbent commissioner and former district attorney, said in January after Gureghian gave $90,000 to fund Brown's primary run. At the time, Castor had not yet been paired with Brown, a Lower Merion commissioner, on the Republican ticket.

In the latest filings, Gureghian's giving makes up nearly 19 percent of Brown-Castor campaign total.

Donations from Audubon firm M.B. Investments, which gave $25,000, and the state Republican Committee, which gave more than $158,000 in money and paid campaign mailings, also contributed to the $926,000 Brown-Castor total.

"We have a huge drain on Republican votes in the southeast in Philadelphia," said Gleason, the state GOP chairman, referring to city dwellers' propensity to vote Democratic. "We have to get our votes out in the suburbs."

On the Democratic side, Shapiro, a state representative from Abington, came to the race with one of the largest war chests in Harrisburg. A prolific fund-raiser, he has funneled $430,000 from his state House campaign fund into the commissioner's race since June, according to filings.

He and running mate Leslie Richards, a Whitemarsh Township supervisor, have also pulled in several significant big-money contributions, including nearly $100,000 from various Philadelphia unions - the Carpenters Regional Council, the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers, and the Teamsters among them.

Traditionally, city-based organized-labor groups have been a reliable source of cash for Democratic campaigns even in the suburbs. In neighboring Bucks County, Republican commissioner candidates Rob Loughery and Charles Martin, both incumbents, last week accused their Democratic rivals, Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Det Ansinn, of letting unions "buy this election" with $100,000 in campaign money.

"What has been promised to the unions in return?" Martin asked at a news conference Thursday. The Democrats have defended their decision to accept the money.

Shapiro and Richards' other major donors include executives of the employee benefit management firm Kistler Tiffany, who gave a combined $24,000, and Huntingdon Valley lawyer Jeffrey Kornblau, who donated $25,000 since June, bringing their fund-raising total to more than $1.1 million.

"We are extremely grateful to our more than one thousand donors, many of whom are Republican and independent voters," said Shapiro-Richards campaign director Lauren Lambrugo. "The vast majority of those donations have been in small dollar amounts, which makes this campaign a people's campaign."

And with hours left until Tuesday's vote, both camps will surely be looking for a few more people willing to open their wallets.

Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck
at 267-564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com, or @inqmontco on Twitter. Read his
blog, "MontCo Memo," at www.philly.com/montcomemo.