Since the 1980s, Denver’s mayoral elections have produced s series of surprise winners. Federico Peña in 1983 (Dale Tooley and William McNichols were frontrunners), Wellington Webb in 1991 (Norm Early was frontrunner), and John Hickenlooper in 2003 (Ari Zavaras was frontrunner).
In the classic upset 20 years ago, Norm Early, the popular Denver DA with a substantial war chest and much of the establishment’s support, won the first round with 40 percent, but lost the runoff to Auditor Wellington Webb by 16 points, or 18,000 votes. After a difficult re-election, Webb went on to be a popular three-term mayor. Hickenlooper won his first election over City Auditor Don Mares by an extraordinary 31,000 votes, or 29 percentage points.