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Colorado campaign war chests are spilling over

Author: Conrad Swanson - October 1, 2018 - Updated: October 18, 2018

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The latest campaign finance reports show Colorado candidates — especially Democrats — are piling up cash as they head into the final weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

Eighteen state campaigns having now collected at least $100,000 in contributions. And two campaigns have collected well over a million dollars, according to reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office in mid-September.

And one — that of Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who is running for governor — has further expanded its own eight-figure lead.

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Fundraising trends for the state’s campaigns continued in September much as they did in August, and political experts say total numbers are climbing higher than they expected.

Alongside Polis, the vast majority of the high-dollar candidates are Democrats. Only six of the 23 biggest fundraisers are Republicans.

Those dollar amounts and the trend of Democratic candidates raising more money than their Republican opponents are up from the August filings. In August, 10 candidates had more than $100,000, another two were past the $1 million mark, while Polis was still comfortable with an eight-figure war chest, most of it his own money. Of the top fundraising candidates at the time, only four were Republicans.

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Nearly 70 percent of statewide elections with both Republican and Democratic candidates have Democrats outraising their competitors, the data show.

Perhaps the climbing campaign contributions are indicative of “the kinds of resources you need to run for office in 2018,” said Matthew Hitt, a political science professor at Colorado State University.

That might be the case, said Robert Duffy, another political science professor at CSU. But he also noted that fundraising isn’t everything. It’s just one factor of many that can build toward a winning campaign.

“It’s noteworthy that there are so many of these Senate races and even a number of the House races where you’ve got people with some pretty substantial sums of money,” Duffy said. “And (the filing) is consistent with what we’ve seen with Democrats raising more money than the Republican candidates. But those differences might be mitigated by the outside spending that’s going on.”

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Topping the fundraising list is Polis, who has collected $18,195,064, the filings show. Of that total, $17,945,486 came out of his own pockets. His Republican opponent, Walker Stapleton, has collected $3,086,821, in comparison.

Of course, Polis’ significant fundraising lead gives him a significant advantage, Hitt said. Plus, Polis had a lead in the polls earlier this year.

However, recent media purchases from Stapleton might sway those numbers and stunt Polis’ polling advantage, Hitt said.

Polis announced a $3 million television ad buy for October, Colorado Politics previously reported.

“That’s a good strategy if you’re concerned about mobilizing turnout,” Hitt said. “But without recent public polling it’s hard to know if his early advantage is holding.”

The Cook Political Report, a national election forecaster, currently lists the governor’s race leaning towards Polis.

The other seven-figure candidate is Democratic attorney general candidate Phil Weiser, who has collected $1,516,845, the filings show. George Brauchler, the Republican candidate, has raised $555,463.

The remaining high-dollar candidates include both candidates for Colorado’s Treasurer and Secretary of State seats, nine Senate and four House candidates. Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, Jena Griswold, tops that list with $637,684 and Democratic candidate for House District 37, Tom Sullivan, is at the bottom with $101,917.

Candidate fundraising is only part of the equation, Duffy said. Another significant factor is how much money is spent by outside groups, including political action committees. And spending from outside groups, which is more difficult to track., definitely contributes to each candidate’s expenditures.

For example, while Democratic candidate for Colorado’s Senate District 16, Tammy Story, has raised $287,137 to the $125,139 raised by her incumbent Republican opponent, Tim Neville, the spending advantage is almost reverses the figures.

“The numbers that I’ve seen suggest that Republican groups are outspending the Democratic groups by a pretty fair amount,” Duffy said. “It was about a 2:1 advantage that the Republican groups had over the Democratic groups’ spending money in the 16th.”

Story — alongside many other top Democratic fundraisers — is also challenging an incumbent, which means she has a higher bar to get over, Duffy said. Most incumbents already have better name recognition and political track records, which can work in their favor during campaigns. Often, newcomers need to raise and spend more money to attract voters, he said.

And then the money can only buy so much name recognition, Duffy said. Most state-level candidates aren’t buying expensive network television ads as much as they’re buying local cable and radio spots and sending out mailers.

“But how many pieces of mail can you send?” Duffy said. “At some point the voters just get irritated by their mailbox being flooded by all these negative ads claiming that candidate A is terrible.”

Moving forward, Duffy said he expects the fundraising trends to continue. Democrats will continue fundraising to hold their financial leads, while Republicans will attempt to make up the difference.

Conrad Swanson

Conrad Swanson