Money isn't everything in top-ticket campaigns, but with scant available public polling, it's one of the only measures of any candidates' standing until voters start weighing in.
In Colorado, candidates for the U.S. Senate and the state's seven congressional seats are falling into distinct tiers a month before the March 7 precinct caucuses test their appeal and the organizational skills their campaigns have assembled.
According to end-of-year campaign finance reports that were due to the Federal Election Commission by Jan. 31, three candidates stand out above the pack — former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Jason Crow.
The quarterly reports covered contributions and expenditures for last year's final quarter, ending on Dec. 31.
At the top of the pyramid is Hickenlooper, the leading Democrat in a crowded primary field champing at the bit to challenge U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, one of the most vulnerable incumbent Republican senators in the country this year.
Hickenlooper, who served two terms as governor and two terms as mayor of Denver before that, raised more for the quarter than the 10 other Senate candidates combined, including Gardner, and he raised more than six times as much as all the other Democrats.
With $2,774,241 in contributions, Hickenlooper reported $3,215,578 in the bank, including what was left over from his fundraising during the five-week period in the fall after he jumped from a presidential campaign into the Senate race.
No slouch, Gardner raised $2,030,797 for the quarter. That's roughly 20% less than he brought in during the previous quarter, but he ended the year with $7,752,392 in the bank, more than twice what Hickenlooper has on hand — without what could be an expensive primary for the Democrat to navigate.
Gardner campaign manager Casey Contres touted Gardner's hefty haul for the year — $8.5 million — and said the incumbent was happy with the funds on hand starting the year.
"His large cash on hand advantage over all of his far-left, Democrat opponents will allow our campaign to get our message out about all Cory has done for this state, while also warning Coloradans about how his opponents' policies will hurt hardworking families," Contres said in a statement.
The other eight Democrats in the primary raised a total of $428,214 for the quarter, though one of them, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, a former U.S. Senate candidate and congressional nominee, accounted for the vast majority of the funds.
With $313,338 in contributions, Romanoff, who has been in the race for nearly a year, saw his fundraising decline from previous quarters — and spent more than he took in during the period — but ended the year with $688,910 on hand.
Romanoff shrugged off Hickenlooper's cash advantage in a statement to Colorado Politics.
"When we win the primary, we’ll have all the money we need to beat Cory Gardner," he said. "In the meantime, the choice is clear: we can surrender to the Washington establishment and sell our Senate seat to the highest bidder — or we can stand and fight for the climate action and health care reform Coloradans deserve."
The other Democrats are campaigning on a shoestring, counting on the support of volunteers to make the June 30 primary ballot.
Former congressional nominee Stephany Rose Spaulding raised the most of the bunch, reporting $29,517 for the quarter, followed by nonprofit director Lorena Garcia, who brought in $28,143, and immigrant rights activist Michelle Ferrigno Warren, at $23,890.
Scientist Trish Zornio raised $21,486, climate activist and psychologist Diana Bray took in $6,069, and Christopher "Critter" Milton reported $5,769 in contributions.
Two candidates who joined the race in recent months, University of Denver professor David Goldfischer and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Erik Underwood, haven't reported fundraising totals.
On the congressional front, Crow is the Aurora attorney and Army veteran who finally accomplished something Democrats have been failing at for decades when he defeated five-term U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in the state's perennial battleground district, the suburban 6th Congressional District.
Crow reported raising $438,705 for the quarter, bringing his total fundraising for the year to $1.8 million, with $1.4 million in the bank.
Of the several Republicans running in the 6th District primary, former state GOP chairman Steve House is the only one who is raising significant sums. He banked $298,018, including an $85,000 loan to his own campaign, and had $437,249 on hand at the end of the quarter.
In a statement, House took aim at Crow's recent turn in the national spotlight, as one of seven House "managers" prosecuting the impeachment case in the Senate against President Donald Trump.
"Many believed two years ago, that they had elected a ‘non-politician moderate’ who would work tirelessly in THEIR best interests," House said in a statement. "They had no idea that once in Washington, Jason Crow would rip the mask off to reveal he was actually a more radicalized Energizer Bunny — dedicated only to doing the bidding of the extreme left and Nancy Pelosi.”
Casper Stockham, who has run for Congress twice in the neighboring 1st Congressional District, raised $13,994 and had $828 on hand. Two other GOP candidates, John Francis Szemler and Ryan Gonzalez, didn't report raising any money.
Only one other congressional district looks like there's potential for a real race brewing.
In the sprawling 3rd Congressional District, which covers the Western Slope, the San Luis Valley and Pueblo County, incumbent Republican Scott Tipton was outraised by first-time Democratic candidate James Iacino, a former seafood executive who recently moved from Denver to Montrose.
Iacino, who launched his campaign during the fourth quarter, reported raising $294,824 and had $165,716 on hand.
Tipton, seeking his sixth term, raised $181,842, but goes into the year with a solid cash-on-hand advantage, with $529,668 in the bank.
Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, a former state legislator seeking a rematch against Tipton, raised $140,125 for the quarter and also had more on hand than her well-heeled primary rival, with $257,587 reported at the end of the year.
A third Democrat running for the seat, activist Root Routledge, raised just $1,946 and finished the year with $355 on hand.
Tipton drew a GOP challenger late in the fourth quarter, when gun-rights activist Lauren Boebert announced her candidacy. She raised $19,249, including $2,005 she gave herself, and had $17,019.58 at the end of the period.
At this point, none of Colorado's other congressional incumbents are facing challengers — either in a primary or for the general election — whose fundraising totals come close to registering.