Thursday, March 16, 2023

Denver Election: Ballots Drop; Where’s the Race?

I just spent last week in conversation with a dozen leaders in business, media (retired), campaign consulting (none working the Denver Mayors race), former Denver officeholders, and other sectors (water, culture, nonprofits). Also, I assembled the latest polling and public campaign finance contributions.

I have the following observations:

1) There is a front line — Brough, Johnston, Herod, Calderon, and Hansen — but no front runner. However, Hansen doesn’t seem to have momentum yet from his early media. Councilwoman Ortega appears to be stuck in a second tier.

Brough and Johnston are the two strongest establishment candidates, according to polling and contributions, including dark money. Johnston just received the Denver Post endorsement, which should provide a boost. Advertising quality and quantity will be important since the candidates don’t appear to have generated much grassroots passion. Total contributions: $1.7 million Brough to $1.6 million Johnston. The table shows contributions matched by the Fair Election Fund.

Fundraising Totals

2) Calderon and Herod have strong progressive identities and ethnic constituencies, and have been local candidates. Assuming one progressive makes the runoff, ethnic turnout and money will help. Herod has a money advantage, but Calderon sounds angry and many in the electorate are ready to shake up the system.

3) Crime dominated the race in Chicago and L.A. Although Bass, the progressive, won in L.A., she had to adapt to it. Crime is also big in Denver but complicated. Blending tough love and some new ideas isn’t easy with vigilant advocates, not many ready proven programs, and an ambivalent electorate.

4) For all the effort to control campaign spending and level the playing field with tax payers’ dollars, dark money is flooding into preferred apparent leaders and giving Brough, Johnston and Herod a big final push. Mostly the government money encouraged a record field of candidates (17).

5) Why no breakout? No personality or grassroots upsurge has pushed a candidate into the front. Mostly it appears to be a lack of any dominant idea or look within the campaigns. There is no “Imagine a Great City.”

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