With $4 billion spent on the midterm elections, 2010's record-setting season won’t be anything compared to what's coming next time. In posh restaurants, corporate townhouses, and blue-chip law firms in Washington, preparations for the unlimited spending of the 2012 races are already moving at full steam. After a wave of comfortable incumbents lost their seats in Congress because of last-minute outpourings of cash, representatives are determined not to be blindsided by the big money again. They're swapping strategies on how to fend off the powerful special interests who want to take them out, and getting into campaign mode immediately. "It's a sad situation," said Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-N.Y.), who nearly lost this year thanks to a challenge from well-funded conservative groups. "This is destructive to the Democratic process, to the average American citizen, but we are going to have to pay more attention to fundraising."