Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy scored a win at Colorado's precinct caucuses Tuesday night, receiving exactly 50 percent of the vote in a preference poll conducted to kick off a multistep process to qualify for the June primary ballot.
With 96.3 percent of precincts reporting, the former state treasurer prevailed over U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who scored 32.5 percent of the vote, according to the Colorado Democratic Party. The other candidates for governor trailed: state Sen. Mike Johnston wound up with 8.8 percent, businessman Noel Ginsburg got 1.7 percent and activist Erik Underwood collected 0.4 percent. Just 6.5 percent of Democrats opted for "uncommitted" in the voting, which took place at more than 3,000 caucus locations across the state.
"I am so grateful for the incredible showing of support. I could feel the momentum building as I traveled the state," Kennedy said in a statement Wednesday morning after results were announced.
Kennedy won nine of the state's 11 largest counties and received more votes than all of the other caucusing candidates combined, her campaign pointed out.
"The caucus is an important step in this election," her campaign manager, Aaron Bly, said in a statement. "This momentum will only continue as we are gaining endorsements, building our grassroots team and talking to voters across Colorado. We are confident this momentum takes us to a victory in June and in November."
Campaign spokespersons for Polis, Johnston and Ginsburg didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from Colorado Politics.
The state party reported that 23,168 Democrats showed up for caucuses - a much lower turnout than two years ago when interest in the presidential race swamped many locations but about on par with other recent mid-term elections that featured contested primary races at the top of the ticket.
Republicans also caucused but didn't hold an official poll in any of their primary races. The state GOP also doesn't report attendance figures for its caucuses.
Kennedy, one of six Democrats running for the office held by term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, is the only major candidate going through the caucus and assembly process without petitioning. Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne wasn't included in the preference poll because she didn't participate in caucuses, but she is circulating petitions.
The caucus is the first step for candidates seeking the nomination. In Colorado, Democrats elect delegates to county, congressional district and state assemblies based on candidates' share of support. It'll take at least 30 percent at the April 14 state assembly in Broomfield to get on the ballot, or 10,500 valid petition signatures.
Johnston so far is the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate to turn in his petitions - he delivered them to the secretary of state last month - and they're in the process of being verified. The deadline is March 20.
Colorado Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll had high praise for the volunteers and party officials who helped run the biennial neighborhood meetings.
"Tuesday's turnout - which was stronger than turnout in both 2014 and 2010 - shows that Democrats are fired up and motivated to elect Democrats up and down the ballot in 2018," she said in a statement.
Her GOP counterpart, state Republican chair Jeff Hays, likewise expressed his appreciation for those who helped make it happen.
"Putting on the caucus is a huge amount of work, and county party officers and volunteers have been absorbed in preparations for months," he told Colorado Politics in a statement. "This has been an opportunity for them to test their capabilities, and they performed superbly."