EDITORS NOTE: The above video aired on Oct. 5.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The race to be the next mayor of Virginia’s sixth-largest city is likely to be the most expensive in city history.

And it’s not just because of inflation.

Rather, it’s the date of the election a political expert believes will make the difference. For the first time, voters in Newport News will elect City Council and School Board members in November instead of May.

Just more than two-and-a-half weeks until election day, the four candidates running for mayor have raised a combined $275,500 according to campaign finance reports compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. To date, the most expensive race for the seat occurred in 2010. A total of $280,000 was raised that year when Mayor McKinley Price won his first term by defeating current Councilwoman Pat Woodbury.

Dr. Ben Melusky, an assistant professor of political science at Old Dominion University, said it isn’t surprising for candidates to raise more money when there is no incumbent in the seat. However, he is surprised about the amount one candidate has raised.

“There would still be money at play, just not as much as this,” Melusky said.

Phillip Jones, 33, has taken in nearly $200,000 between the beginning of his campaign through the end of September. The former Marine turned management consultant has never held elected office before, however, he currently serves on the city’s planning commission.

He has outraised his three opponents by more than $100,000 combined and plans to air TV commercials on all four major networks closer to election day.

Melusky said Jones does need to get his name “out there” more than his challengers do. They all currently serve on City Council.

“It doesn’t really matter where they are in the food chain of offices. Incumbents tend to win at much higher rates,” Melusky said.

But more so, he must compete with “noise” that has never faced a Newport News mayoral candidate before. Candidates for mayor in Newport News will appear under congressional candidates on the ballot.

“There some criticism that these municipal races will be washed out by the national political trends that are taking place,” Melusky said. “The air is being sucked out of the room by so many candidates.”

Jones’s list of donors includes longtime Newport News power brokers such as W.M. Jordan and Arthur Casey of the Casey Auto Group. Both donated $10,000 to Jones’s campaign. It is the largest amount they’ve ever given to a campaign in Newport News.

Former Gov. Terry McAulliffe has also cut Jones a $5,000 check. He has also officially endorsed him. Jones’ campaign manager has worked for McAulliffe in the past.

“There’s a heightened focus now on some of these lower races right as the potential to one, get policy changes at the local levels that match your partisan bend and two, getting new candidates for down the road,” Melusky said. “It’s almost a kingmaking sense, right? You’re working to help some of these younger officials get into office, establish themselves and get their political legs moving forward.”

In speaking to Jones, he said at this point he has no plans to seek higher office other than the one he is currently seeking.

“People are looking across the country, for our generation to step up. To take a helm to be at a vanguard and to drive the city forward,” Jones said. “I’m really proud of the support we have garnered not only in Newport News but also with friends far and wide.”

He also pointed out that his top donors are himself and his fiance: Jamila Wytner. Between both of them they have put up more than $30,000.

Vice Mayor Saundra Cherry is in a distant second in the financial race. She has raised more than $30,000. Councilwoman Tina Vick and Councilman Dave Jenkins have raised $24,000 and $21,000 respectively.

“I will tell you I am a terrible fundraiser and that is pretty obvious,” Jenkins quipped in a recent interview. “I just don’t see why people are raising this much money.”

Jenkins is his campaign’s top donor, a fact he prides himself on. He said he isn’t a big fan of money in politics.

“I think that sometimes money can be tied to votes,” Jenkins said.

Melusky said that is a claim nearly impossible to prove.

“If anything, money doesn’t so much buy a vote it buys you access,” Melusky said. “So once you are in office, right after the fact, that person is more likely to be able to get on your agenda and speak with you.”

But Jenkins said those aren’t necessarily the people he wants to be speaking to.

“When you are wealthy and know other wealthy people, you can accumulate a great deal of money for a campaign. I don’t move in those circles,” Jenkins said. “I’m in touch with what average people want to see in their city.”

Neither Cherry nor Vick returned a request for comment on this story. Jones said it should be known his wealthy donors won’t control him.

“As Mayor of Newport News, I only answer to the citizens of Newport News,” Jones said.