Voters drop off their ballots at the Denver Election Commission office in Denver on Nov. 6, 2018. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

A year and a half before the 2020 election, the money race continues to define the top-tier political contests in Colorado.

The candidates — from president to Congress — are spending significant time raising money to show support and viability in what is expected to be a long and expensive campaign. 

Here are five takeaways from the 2019 second-quarter reports at the federal and state level released this week:

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1. National popular vote repeal is raking in the GOP cash

Big bucks are flowing into –– and out of –– Coloradans Vote, the committee aiming to repeal a law adding Colorado to the national popular compact. 

The committee raised $524,000 from April through June, for a total of nearly $590,000 thus far, state records show.

The large donors: Better Jobs Coalition, a nonprofit group chaired by Republican Rick Enstrom, gave $105,000 and Project West PAC, the leadership political committee for Republican U.S. Cory Gardner, donated $50,000. William Armstrong, son of the late Sen. Bill Armstrong, gave $25,000, and the Colorado Republican Committee’s super PAC gave $20,000.

Coloradans Vote has spent nearly $496,000. The bulk of it — $450,000 — went to Blitz Canvassing, an arm of political consulting firm EIS Solutions that hires people to gather petition signatures. 

“The issue committee retained Blitz to augment signatures collected by volunteers,” said Frank McNulty, an adviser to Coloradans Vote. “I am absolutely amazed by the number of volunteer petitions being turned in every day.”

That spending on signature gathering doesn’t approach the $2 million spent by Coloradans for Coloradans in 2018 to get a state tax hike to pay for transportation on the ballot . That measure failed.

If Coloradans Vote gets nearly 125,000 valid signatures turned in on Aug. 1, voters will be asked in the 2020 general election whether the national popular vote law should be overturned.

Democrats Mike Johnston, left, and Dan Baer speak at a Denver event for candidates running to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. The pair are leading the primary pack in fundraising. (Photos by Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

2. In Senate race, Johnston maintains his fundraising lead, Alice Madden is far behind

Former state Sen. Mike Johnston continues to lead fundraising in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, hauling in nearly $1.6 million between April 1 and June 30.

And he’s spending like a front-runner too, burning through $595,000 during that period. A significant chunk — $221,000 — went to social media outreach efforts. About went $32,000 to media production. He also has at least eight staffers on salary, reports indicate

Still, he ended June with $2.6 million of cash on hand — which appears to be about equal to the rest of the primary field combined. 

Former Obama-era diplomat Dan Baer raised more than $1.1 million in his first fundraising quarter as a candidate and rolled over about $245,000 left in the account of his brief 2018 congressional campaign. Baer’s campaign spent about $335,000, leaving him with just over $1 million in the bank. 

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

Colorado’s former U.S attorney, John Walsh, raised just more than $750,000 and spent almost $200,000 during the quarter, leaving him with $582,000. Former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff raised just more than $500,000 — about the same as in the three prior months — and spent about $220,000, leaving him with about $730,000.

In last place among the top tier of Democratic candidates in the race was former Colorado House Majority Leader Alice Madden, who raised just over $100,000 in her first month and a half as a candidate. She also donated her own campaign $40,000 and loaned it $50,000.

3. Gardner reports a steady haul, fueled by the NRSC

Gardner, the most vulnerable Republican in the U.S. Senate, reported contributions totaling more than $2 million during the fundraising period, with $1.2 million from individual donations. 

The rest was made up of funds from political action committees — including PACs representing coal, oil and gas, health care interests, as well as other Republican candidate committees and leadership PACs.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP campaign arm in the Senate, is already investing in the race, giving Gardner’s camp nearly $45,000. Some of the PACs making investments in Gardner’s campaign include those for Alliance Coal, Chevron, Duke Energy, Anadarko and Whiting Petroleum.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, at an event in Aurora on July 12, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

More than $305,000 of Gardner’s contributions came from Colorado, followed by $267,000 from Washington, D.C., and nearly $200,000 from Virginia.

The campaign paid nearly $180,000 to fundraising consulting firms, roughly $90,000 to other strategists and about $70,000 for travel across the country, reports show.

He spent about $500,000 in the quarter, leaving him with nearly $5 million of cash on hand, a generous advantage over Democrats who are expected to largely deplete their accounts to win the June 2020 primary.

4. Bennet outraises Hickenlooper, but both trail the pack

In the race for the White House, Colorado’s two presidential candidates finished in the lower end of the crowded Democratic pack seeking the nomination.

Sen. Michael Bennet brought in $3.5 million in his first two months of running, though $700,000 of his cash came via a transfer from his U.S. Senate account. He spent $1.3 million, and had nearly $2.2 million in the bank as of June 30.

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper spent more (about $1.6 million) than he raised (roughly $1.2 million) in the second quarter. Hickenlooper’s total take since he joined the race in late March is about $3.2 million — less than Bennet’s first two months. Notably, Hickenlooper put $30,000 of his own cash into the campaign in late June.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, left, and former Gov. John Hickenlooper. Both are Colorado Democrats. (Photos by Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The Hickenlooper campaign spent nearly $450,000 on payroll and taxes in the second quarter. That’s a future expense that won’t be much of a worry, after several top campaign staffers left two weeks ago.

Hickenlooper has about 1,000 unique donors, while Bennet has more than 1,600. That isn’t enough to land either candidate in the third round of debates in September, and both candidates are polling near the bottom.

Colorado remains the top state for Hickenlooper donors, with nearly $444,000 coming from in-state donors. Bennet, however, received nearly $597,000 of his donations from New York, about $432,000 from California and about $430,000 from Colorado. 

5. In congressional race, challenger Crisanta Duran continues to trail incumbent

Former Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran had another modest fundraising period in her bid to unseat longtime U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, taking in about $80,000 in Colorado 1st Congressional District primary.

Duran, also a Denver Democrat, spent $63,000 and had about $85,000 of cash on hand at the end of the quarter. 

By comparison, DeGette raised roughly $207,000 — $88,000 of which came from PACs. (Duran has pledged not to take money from super PACs.) DeGette spent $132,000 during the fundraising quarter, coming out with $276,000 of cash on hand.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, made a haul of roughly $209,000 during the quarter, $108,000 of which came from PACs, and spent just about $67,000. That left him with more than $300,000 of cash on hand for his reelection effort in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. 

His Democratic rivals couldn’t match the money game. Former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, a Steamboat Springs Democrat, raised about $130,000 in her second effort to unseat Tipton. 

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....

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...