This is the third in a series of stories on Denver mayoral candidates in their last days on the campaign trail ahead of the May 7 city election.
The first thing you notice about one of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s re-election campaign stops is how much it resembles a sporting event.
Door-to-door canvassing is a standard part of most campaigns, where volunteers fan out into the community with literature about their candidate and talk with likely voters.
But on a recent Saturday afternoon when Hancock addressed some 40 volunteers at the Washington Park Boathouse as they were getting ready to canvas, he sounds more like a football coach giving his team a pep talk.
“We can spend most of the campaign raising money, putting commercials up, doing mailings,” Hancock tells the group. “But the election is really won, right here, on the ground, knocking on doors.”
Hancock recalls how when he was first elected mayor in 2011, his volunteers knocked on “almost every door in Denver” He won the runoff election against Chris Romer that year by 16 points.
“And I’ve never forgot … that our greatest momentum comes when we knock on a door and have those conversations with people and remind them what Denver’s about and how far we’ve come and where we still need to go,” he tells the volunteers.
“Let’s go knock on some doors and let’s go win this race.”
And with that the group huddles in a circle with their hands in the middle and raise them shouting “Victory.”
Hancock has raised $1.7 million in campaign funds so far – more than double all his challengers combined. And that money has paid for plenty of commercials and mailings.
But as he seeks re-election to a third and final term as mayor, Hancock insists that it’s the personal contacts that make or break an election.
“This is where it happens right here. People to people. Hand to hand. Conversation for conversation," Hancock says as he walks into the crowd of people on Washington Park’s great lawn.
“And we’re deploying that same technique this time around,” he adds. “People never forget who they had a conversation with.”
That brings us to the second thing you notice at a Hancock campaign event: His knack for plunging into a crowd and talking briefly to as many people as possible.
He stops and ask volleyball players who won and how much they spent on their net.
He holds up a baby and greets a man who just started working for the city.
He talks to a Boston man about his friendship with that city’s mayor.
And he pets nearly every dog he meets.
This last habit leads to one amusing moment when Hancock tries to pet a small dog named Nugget. The dog gives him a slight nip on the finger.
“Nugget, you and I have to talk,” he says with mock seriousness. “You just bit the mayor.”
“You’re all right,” he adds, switching to a sports reference, “I hope the Nuggets bite as hard as you did.”
He peppers each encounter by reminding people to mail in their ballots.
Whether this strategy works in 2019 is an open question, especially in a campaign when the city’s rapid growth and development have emerged as the prime issue.
The people he meets with in Washington Park on this day are generally a younger crowd, a group not know for turning out in a spring municipal election. Many of them say they haven’t voted yet. Some say they still needed to do some research 10 days before the election.
But many of those people say the personal contact helps.
For example, at one point, Hancock joins in a game of Cornhole, the lawn game where people toss bean bags into a small round hole.
After he leaves, his teammate Clara Goodman said she remains undecided about the race. Goodman says she generally looks to her mom, a school teacher, for advice on who to vote for. But she likes that Hancock stopped to play a game with her friends.
“I know it’s obviously campaign driven,” Goodman says. “But seeing him out in Wash Park. Everyone’s having a fun day today. It’s cool that he would stop by and play Cornhole with us.”
Her friend Max Will says he is also undecided. But he knows of Hancock from his previous eight years in office. And he remembers hearing him speak one year at an Easter sunrise service at Red Rocks.
“So, I’ve seen him out and about and it’s good to see that he’s still out there,” Will says. “He’s the only politician I’ve come close to.”
Hancock’s team won the Cornhole game. Whether that will translate to votes or not remains to be seen. But it’s also worth remembering that while the mayor was taking his walk in the park, 40 volunteers were out canvassing the neighborhood.