Colorado lags others states on share of federal dollars

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With Labor Day come and gone, the unofficial start to the fall election season has begun in earnest.

Campaign finance reports filed on Tuesday with TRACER, the Secretary of State's campaign finance database, show that incumbent candidates for the statehouse in some of the hottest races in 2020 are doing better at fundraising than their opponents — but not always.

Several races stand out, both in terms of who’s raising money, and in one case, who isn’t.

For the past several election cycles, both major political parties have attempted to put candidates in every statehouse race.

In 2020, Democrats have done better at that than Republicans. There are seven races for the House without a Republican candidate, most in safe Democratic districts, but not all. For example, in House District 50, which includes Greeley, Democratic Rep. Mary Young faces a Libertarian challenger but no Republican candidate. Voter registration statistics from August show that Democrats hold a 1,300-voter registration advantage over Republicans, but there are 6,000 more unaffiliated voters than Democratic registered voters.

Democrats left one seat in the House unchallenged: in House District 65, northeastern Colorado, which is as solidly Republican as they come. Rep. Rod Pelton of Cheyenne Wells is running for his second term.

Heading into the next 53 days before the election, there are some candidates who have a lot of money at the ready, and a few who have been spending like drunken sailors and head into the fall with little to no financial advantage.

And then there’s Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock. His campaign finance reports show he hasn’t raised the first penny for his 2020 reelection bid, which will be his fourth and last in the House. Neville is relying on almost $19,000 leftover from his 2018 campaign, with $14,837 left for the next seven weeks. He has two opponents: Democrat Katie Barrett and Libertarian Caryn Harlos, both of Castle Rock. Barrett has nearly matched what Neville has on hand as of Sept. 2, at $13,768.

Neville has won his three previous elections by a minimum of 24% and a maximum of 38%.

In the Senate, Republicans aren’t fielding candidates in two seats: Senate District 29 in Aurora, held by Sen. Rhonda Fields, and Senate District 33 in Denver. Rep. James Coleman is running for that seat, currently held by Sen. Angela Williams, who bowed out of the race.

So where’s the money?

It’s in Senate District 19, held by incumbent Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat. She’s raised a staggering $239,065 as of Sept. 2, with $163,742 still in the bank. Her Republican opponent, Lynn Gerber, has raised $28,142 and has $16,823 left as of Sept. 2.

Zenzinger swamps every other candidate for the House or Senate in total fundraising to date for the 2020 general election.

In second place: Democrat Jeff Bridges of Greenwood Village, in Senate District 26, who has raised $175,130 as of Sept. 2 and has $85,041 on hand. His Republican opponent, Bob Roth, has raised $23,165 and has $14,158 on hand, heading into the fall.

Chris Kolker in Senate District 27 has done the best among non-incumbent candidates, raising $129,065 for his Centennial seat contest against Republican Suzanne Staiert, who has taken in $54,122 as of Sept. 2.

Kolker has $69,281 left as of Sept. 2; Staiert is sitting on $18,011.

In the “spending like a drunken sailor” category: Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder, who is in a safe Democratic seat. He had more than $25,000 left over from his 2016 campaign and has added $22,699, as of Sept. 2. But he’s spent all but $5,885.15.

His Republican challenger, Peggy Cage, has raised just $9,715 but has spent little of it. She has $7,433 left as of Sept. 2.

Democratic Sen. Chris Hansen, in Senate District 31, has raised $105,859 but has spent all but $8,627 as of Sept. 2. His Republican challenger, Doug Townsend, lags far behind in this Denver (and safe Democratic) seat, with $18,451 raised and $3,082 left as of Sept. 2.

Then there’s Senate District 23 in Larimer, Broomfield and Weld counties, held by term-limited Republican Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins. Republican challenger Barbara Kirkmeyer survived a rough primary, one of several in Weld County, and has $13,778 left as of Sept. 2. Her Democratic opponent, Sally Boccella, has $24,671 left in the bank.

In the House, the fundraising leader, as of Sept. 2, is Democratic Rep. Bri Buentello of Pueblo, who is in what is likely to be the toughest House race this November. Buentello eked out a 321-vote victory in 2018 and Republicans are hoping to retake this seat this year.

But they’ll have to overcome both strong fundraising from Buentello, weak fundraising from her Republican opponent, Stephanie Luck, plus what’s expected to be a big advantage in support for Buentello from various independent expenditure committees.

As of Sept. 2, Buentello has raised $143,509 with $95,494 on hand. Luck, who had to use some of her campaign money to win the June primary, has raised $20,555 and has $11,491 on hand as of Sept. 2.

Among the “stretch” goals for Democrats: the House District 43 seat held by Assistant House Minority Leader Kevin Van Winkle of Highlands Ranch. Van Winkle had more than $14,000 left over from 2018 and has raised $45,000 as of Sept. 2. He has $52,142 on hand heading into the fall, an amount that leads all 58 Republican candidates for the House.

His Democratic opponent, Jennifer Mitkowski, has raised just $627 less in 2020 than Van Winkle, and has $38,441 for the fall campaign.

Another race targeted by Democrats, in House District 38 (Littleton), shows that the Democratic challenger, David Ortiz, is swamping the Republican incumbent, Rep. Richard Champion, in fundraising.

Ortiz has raised $126,469 to Champion’s $47,667. Ortiz has $49,140 left to Champion’s $9,654.

Stretch goals for Republicans include House Districts 27 and 29, both in Arvada. HD 27 is held by incumbent Democrat Rep. Brianna Titone, who also won a close race in 2018. She’s facing a rematch with Republican Vicki Pyne, but the dollars definitely favor Titone, who has raised $102.602 to Pyne’s $41,631. Titone has $62,955 on hand as of Sept. 2 to Pyne’s $17,636.

House District 29 is an open seat, held by term-limited Democratic Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp. The Democratic challenger, Lindsey Daugherty, holds a strong advantage in fundraising over Republican Vanessa Warren-DeMott.

Daugherty has raised $99,179, with $48,458 on hand; DeMott has raised $11,051 with $7,138 left as of Sept. 2.

Republicans would also like to take back the seats in House District 25 (Evergreen) and 37 (Centennial), but Republican candidate fundraising in those seats has lagged far behind the Democratic incumbents.

In House District 25, Rep. Lisa Cutter has a strong advantage over Republican Don Rosier. Cutter has raised $96,710 to Rosier’s $35,000, and Cutter has $58,625 left on hand to Rosier’s $14,533. In House District 37, Rep. Tom Sullivan has raised $105,929 with $83,381 left as of Sept. 2. Republican challenger Caroline Cornell has received $21,249 with $16,957 on hand.

Candidates also rely on fundraising done by the leadership of the House and Senate in both parties.

The Senate Majority Fund is responsible for helping Republican candidates for the Senate; in the House, it’s Values First Colorado.

The Senate Majority Fund, a 527 political committee, has raised $1.326 million as of Sept. 2 but has not yet begun dispersing those funds to its independent expenditure committee that supports Republicans or opposes Democrats.

The 527 has spent $274,039 on consultants, with the largest checks going to companies that do polling or fundraising.

Values First Colorado, also a 527 committee, has raised $786,808 and so far in 2020 has sent one contribution of $6,263 to the Senate Majority Fund. It’s spent $308,150, with $216,769 going to consultants, including Rearden Strategic, which has so far been paid $124,500 in 2019 and 2020. Rearden Strategic is run by Joe Neville, the brother of House Minority Leader Neville.

For Democrats, the committee backing Democratic House candidates is the Better Colorado Alliance, which has so far raised only $27,009. However, its affiliated independent expenditure committee has raised $1.684 million but has not yet sent out contributions to IECs backing House Democratic candidates.

The IEC has so far spent $927,531, including $417,741 on consultants. That includes $10,000 per month this year to “You Need a Plan LLC,” a Littleton company that has no website or known street address. The TRACER reports do not say what the company did for that money. Another $125,846 went for electioneering communications.

The Senate committee is Leading Colorado Forward. The 527 has raised a little over $35,000, but its IEC has taken in $2.173 million. It has so far sent out one $50,000 contribution to an IEC backing Senate Democratic candidates.

The IEC has spent $324,327 on consultants, with $122,808 going for electioneering communications in August. Bluemountain Strategies, which includes among its clients the Sixteen Thirty Fund, also has been getting monthly checks from the IEC. The Sixteen Thirty Fund has poured more than $14 million into IECs that back Democratic candidates and left-leaning causes since 2012.

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