Mike Johnston 2020

In this June 18, 2018, file photo, then-Colorado Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston responds to a question during a televised debate in Denver. 

Democrat Mike Johnston announced Tuesday that his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Cory Gardner raised $1.8 million since the beginning of the year — setting a state fundraising record. 

The former state senator and gubernatorial candidate from Denver took in more cash for an initial fundraising quarter than any Senate candidate in state history, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Johnston, who isn't taking donations from political action committees, said he received contributions from residents of each of Colorado's 64 counties, but his campaign didn't provide further details, including the number of donors, expenditures or cash on hand.

Johnston launched his campaign on Jan. 31, joining a sprawling Democratic primary field of candidates hoping to challenge Gardner, considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent senators up for re-election in 2020.

Johnston is the first Colorado Senate candidate to announce an estimate of his fundraising total for the quarter, which ended March 31. Senate and congressional candidates must file detailed reports for the first quarter with the FEC by April 15. 

“Colorado deserves a senator who will fight for Colorado values and won’t be afraid to address the real problems facing our country," Johnston said in a statement. ""My whole life I’ve run toward our toughest challenges, and that’s what I’ll do in the U.S. Senate.

"This early support builds the momentum we need to share that message and defeat Cory Gardner, so we can fight for the progressive policies our country needs on healthcare, immigration and climate change.”

The $1.8 million Johnston brought in for his Senate campaign's first quarter also tops the sum he raised across four quarters in 2017 for his gubernatorial bid. He set a modern record that year for donations to a state-level campaign in an off-year by taking in more than $1.5 million. (Johnston finished third in last year's four-way primary for governor, behind then-U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who won the governor's race, and former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy.)

The $5,600 individual contribution limits for U.S. Senate campaigns are substantially higher than Colorado's limits on contributions for governor, which are capped at $1,050 from individuals. 

Johnston's U.S. Senate fundraising total is slightly more than the $1.7 million Gardner reported on hand at the end of 2017, after the incumbent raised a total of $2.6 million over the last four years.

A campaign spokesman for Gardner didn't respond to an inquiry from Colorado Politics asking if the Republican plans to release fundraising totals for the most recent quarter before the filing deadline.

In all, eight Democrats are already running in the Senate primary, and a handful of prominent Democrats are considered potential candidates.

Gardner is one of only two Republican senators running for re-election in states won by Democrat Hillary Clinton, who carried Colorado in 2016 by 5 percentage points.

Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who made unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and Congress in 2014, is the other major Democratic candidate so far running for Gardner's seat.

A spokeswoman for Romanoff told Colorado Politics his campaign doesn't plan to release fundraising totals ahead of the filing deadline.

Also in the running are scientist Trish Zornio, organizer Lorena Garcia, activist Danielle Kombo, pharmacist Dustin Leitzel and veterans advocate Keith Pottratz and former congressional candidate Stephany Rose Spaulding.

Several Democrats have said they're considering joining the field, including John Walsh, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado, and state Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail.

U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Joe Neguse are also considered potential Gardner challengers.

Before Johnston's announcement, the Colorado Senate candidate with the previous highest initial quarterly fundraising total was Republican Pete Coors, who reported raising $1.6 million for the second quarter of 2004, his first as a candidate. (Coors lost the race for the open seat to the Democratic nominee, then-Attorney General Ken Salazar.)

Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet had the next-highest initial quarterly total, taking in $1.42 million during the first quarter he was in the 2010 race, following his appointment to the seat in January 2009. (Bennet survived a primary challenge from Romanoff and narrowly defeated Republican nominee Ken Buck in the general election.)

Hot on Bennet's heels, Gardner reported raising $1.41 million for the first quarter of 2014, which was also the first quarter he was a declared 2014 Senate candidate. (Gardner, at the time a sitting congressman, unseated Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.)

Democrat Tom Strickland brought in $1.3 million for the last reporting period of 2001, his first in the 2002 Senate race. (Strickland lost a bid to oust Republican U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard in a rematch of their 1996 contest.)

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