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Colorado Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston responds to a question during a televised debate on June 18, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Outside money is an early force for the Republican incumbent and leading Democratic fundraiser in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner raised a little more than $2 million from Jan. 1 through March 31 with only 22 percent — $448,000 — from Colorado residents, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of campaign finance reports filed Monday.

The top Democratic challenger in the money race, Mike Johnston, raised $1.8 million since he entered the contest Jan. 31. The former Democratic state senator and unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial candidate received 47 percent, or $833,000, in campaign cash from Colorado residents.

Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff raised more than $503,000, and has about $449,000 in the bank. At least 75 percent of his money came from Coloradans.

But other Democrats are so far struggling to gain traction and raise the kind of money needed in a highly competitive contest. Campaign fundraising is an important early sign of viability that shows a campaign’s ability to hire staff and establish a statewide network.

The 2020 contest on the Democratic side remains in flux with more candidates expected to enter the fray. Dan Baer, a former ambassador under President Barack Obama, announced his bid Monday, and former U.S Attorney John Walsh joined the contest Tuesday.

MORE: Here’s who’s running to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020 — and who’s thinking about it

Considered one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the 2020 election, Gardner reported $3.4 million in cash on hand, compared with Johnston’s $1.6 million, according to reports made to the Federal Election Commission.

But there are significant differences between the two candidates. Gardner raised nearly $763,000 from political action committees, or 35 percent of his total. Johnston isn’t taking PAC money.

More than 1,200 individuals contributed to Johnston, compared with 755 individual contributors for Gardner, the Sun’s analysis showed.

Among Gardner’s notable donors:

  • PACs representing mining company Freeport-McMoran, dialysis provider DaVita, Amazon, Koch Industries and the Citizens United Victory Fund.
  • Dish Network employees contributed $29,000, including the maximum donation of $5,600 from chairman Charlie Ergen.
  • Colorado donors include furniture magnate Jake Jabs, beer baron Pete Coors and Liberty Media CEO Gregory Maffei.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Among Johnston’s notable donors:

  • Employees of venture capital firm Foundry Group donated $32,600, including $5,400 from founding partner Brad Feld.
  • Other companies with significant employee donors include Vail Resorts at $11,250 and EverCommerce at $11,200.
  • Notable individuals include LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, who gave $1 million to a super PAC that supported Johnston in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and Kimbal Musk, founder of The Kitchen restaurants and brother of Elon Musk.

In 2014, more than $92 million went into a contest in which then-Congressman Gardner defeated Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall. Udall spent more than $18 million to Gardner’s $12.5 million.

The other Democratic candidates in the current race did not raise much money:

Outgoing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper stands with his wife, Robin Pringle, and son, Teddy, before the inauguration of Jared Polis at the Colorado State Capitol on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. (Pool photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Hickenlooper raises more than half from Colorado allies

Meanwhile, former Gov. John Hickenlooper brought in about $2 million for his Democratic presidential bid in the 30 days after he officially announced his run on March 1. He had $1.3 million in the bank on March 31, according to the report.

That’s a tiny sum compared to the $30 million reported in the most recent quarter by President Donald Trump or the nearly $21 million reported by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the top Democratic fundraiser. But it’s more than former Obama cabinet official Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, who brought in $1.1 million.

More than half of Hickenlooper’s money is from Coloradans, according to a Sun analysis. He listed nearly 1,100 individual donors and reported more than $200,000 in un-itemized donations of less than $200 each.

Among Hicklooper’s donations: $41,000 from employees of Liberty Media, where his wife, Robin Hickenlooper, works, including $2,800 from Maffei; and $16,800 from employees of Foundry Group.

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...