This is a good year to be a Democrat running for state and federal offices in Colorado, campaign finance filings show.
“They have a lot more contributions and a lot more enthusiasm than on the Republican side,” said Robert Duffy, a political science professor at Colorado State University.
The blue wave anticipated by many political experts and pundits is reflected in Democrats’ fundraising for the Nov. 6 election, said Matthew Hitt, another political science professor at CSU. The wave is particularly strong among Democrats facing Republican incumbents, candidates who usually face significant fundraising challenges.
“It’s related to the Democratic and liberal dissatisfaction with the Trump administration,” Hitt said. “Democrats often have a harder time fundraising because they usually rely on smaller donors and individuals, and unions are getting weaker.”
The possibility of that blue wave is encouraging to Democrats hoping to wrest control of the state Senate from Republicans, who hold a one-seat majority — 18 seats to the Democrats’ 16 and a lone independent.
The vast majority of top fundraisers this year are Democrats, according to itemized contribution reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office by Aug. 1.
All top 10 fundraisers in state House races are Democrats, as are nine of the top 10 in state Senate races. And seven of the top 10 fundraisers in U.S. House races also are Democrats.
Some candidates have raised money entirely within Colorado, but their totals have scarcely reached five figures this year. Other candidates reached far beyond state borders for their cash.
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, the District 1 Democrat, raised more than 77 percent of her $1.2 million from out-of-state donors. Her opponent, Republican Casper Stockham, has raised only about $5,404, about 9 percent of which came from out-of-state donors.
“It’s not unusual for incumbents to raise more of their money out of state than in state,” Duffy said, especially in federal races. “They’ve been there before, and they have a national fundraising presence.”
Many congressional incumbents are on high-profile committees, giving them national contacts and opening the door to more fundraising opportunities, said Sara Hagedorn, a political science professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Among the 183 candidates reviewed by The Gazette, contributions range from zero to a few hundred dollars and into the millions.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who is running for governor, tops the list, with about $12.4 million.
Polis, a tech millionaire, contributed $12.25 million in cash and in-kind donations to his campaign.
“But that doesn’t make it any less valuable,” Duffy said.
And campaign contributions are only one measure of how well a candidate might fare, Hagedorn said.
“You need money to do all of the things that make running a campaign possible,” she said. “You’ve got to get your name out there, you’ve got to let people know you’re running.”
In past races, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, was outspent but still held his seat, Hagedorn said.
“It’s more what you do with the money than how much you have,” she said.
Hitt concurred. “Money doesn’t equal votes. It helps, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.”
Also, itemized contributions don’t quantify all the money that might be spent to benefit a candidate.
Federal Elections Commission data used by The Gazette for federal candidates shows contributions from individuals and political action committees, while data from the Secretary of State’s Office shows only itemized contributions.
In Colorado, contribution of more than $20 must be itemized in finance reports, noting the donor’s name and address, said Kris Reynolds, campaign finance trainer with the Secretary of State’s Office.
Any single contribution exceeding $100 also must list the donor’s employer or occupation.
Money raised by political action committees and other political organizations aren’t part of candidates’ filings, Duffy said.
“There are activist networks on both sides who raise money for candidates across the country when they see state legislative bodies that they can flip, or that are in danger of flipping to the other side,” he said.
DeGette’s race is all but decided, Hitt said, but others are worth watching.
State Senate districts 16 and 24 could be tight. Democrats Tammy Story and Faith Winter each raised more than double that of their incumbent Republican opponents, Tim Neville and Beth Martinez Humenik. The situations are similar in races for state House districts 25, 27, 37 and 38.
Plus, there’s plenty of time for these numbers to flip. The next batch of filings due Sept. 4 could tell a different story.
“I can guarantee you party activists are seeing these numbers too, and where the Republican Party sees themselves at a disadvantage in a race they think they can win, efforts will be made to make up some of those gaps,” Hitt said.
Many federal candidates likely were raising money in such states as California, Florida, New York and Texas in the campaigns’ early months, Hagedorn said. But during the home stretch, they’ll come to Colorado to raise more and build a rapport with the electorate.
That rapport is the trick, Hitt said.
“It’s about turnout, and that’s not a new political insight. It’s reminding someone, ‘Hey, you’re unsatisfied with the president,’ or ‘You’re satisfied. Remember there’s an election going, and you might want to think about mailing your ballot back.’ ”