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Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made his case at a forum with 10 other contenders for the Democratic primary in the U.S. Senate race at a September forum at the Durango Public Library. To his right, Andrew Romanoff looks on. (Jerry McBride, Durango Herald)

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee put money behind its endorsement of John Hickenlooper with a $49,600 donation to start his campaign.

The September contribution to the two-term former governor is part of the $2.1 million he raised in less than six weeks as a candidate in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, according to new Federal Election Commission reports filed Tuesday. He ended September with $1.7 million in the bank, which The Colorado Sun first reported last week.

The DSCC’s money, the maximum donation possible, is just an initial investment into Hickenlooper’s campaign, as the national party committee and its allies are expected to spend millions to help him in the 2020 race against Republican Cory Gardner, which ranks as one of the top contests in the country. 

Hickenlooper’s primary rival, Democrat Andrew Romanoff, brought in $430,000 in contributions in the same period. He spent most of what he raised and finished with $725,000 in the bank — roughly the same position he stood on June 30. Since entering the contest in February, the former House speaker raised $1.4 million, less than Hickenlooper raised in 40 days.

Ahead of the report’s release, Romanoff downplayed the focus on his fundraising. He called his numbers “fine.” But his campaign celebrated Tuesday, saying he received twice as many donations in September, soon after the DSCC backed Hickenlooper, as any other month this year.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made his case at a forum with 10 other contenders for the Democratic primary in the U.S. Senate race at a forum at the Durango Public Library in September. Andrew Romanoff, to his immediate right, looks on. (Jerry McBride, Durango Herald)

Hickenlooper and Romanoff are the only two Democratic candidates still in the race to raise significant money from July through September. But neither matched the bank total posted by the Republican incumbent.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner showed $6.7 million in his campaign account at the start of October after raising nearly $2.5 million in the third quarter, which The Sun reported last week. The first-term lawmaker also is getting big help from the party, raising nearly $533,000 through seven of his 12 affiliated joint fundraising committees. The committees allow other Republican leaders to help raise money for Gardner and political party groups that might help him. The NRSC gave to Gardner earlier this year.

About 78% of Gardner’s contributions came from individuals, while $545,000 came from political action committees representing various business interests, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of federal campaign finance reports. About 30% of his money came from Colorado.

Hickenlooper is not accepting corporate PAC money and received only about 5% of his contributions from political committees, excluding the DSCC donation. He received 92% of his money from individual donors. About 41% of his money came from Colorado and another 11% from New York — his top two states.

Other Democratic candidates struggle to raise big money

The eight other Democratic candidates competing in the party primary are raising far less money, which will limit their ability to build a campaign organization that can reach voters.

State Sen. Angela Williams raised $108,000 with a significant portion — nearly $46,000 — coming from lobbyists and corporate officers who have business before the legislature. Williams had a mere $49,000 left in her account to start the month, and she cast doubt on whether her campaign could continue — blaming the DSCC for picking favorites in a party primary.

“When you consider the extreme levels to which the DSCC has gone to put the thumb on the scale for John Hickenlooper, our campaign feels pretty good about our effort,” Williams said in a statement. “Obviously, I know that … our campaign will need to show growth at the end of the year for us to endure. Still, I believe we need to have strong women leaders in the United States Senate. The voices of women and people of color will not be silenced, and I plan on staying in this race.”

MORE: John Hickenlooper posts Colorado fundraising record in his first six weeks as U.S. Senate candidate

Four more prominent candidates raised solid money in the third quarter, but all abandoned their bids after Hickenlooper entered the race. 

  • Former state Sen. Mike Johnston still had $2.4 million in the bank at the end of September, but he raised only $214,000 before dropping out in early September. He led the Democratic fundraising until Hickenlooper joined the contest.
  • Former diplomat Dan Baer raised about $272,000 and had $642,000 left in the bank.
  • Former U.S. Attorney John Walsh raised nearly $110,000 and had about $244,000 left.
  • Former House Majority Leader Alice Madden raised nearly $76,000 and ended her campaign with $28,000. She ended her bid Friday and still has a $50,000 loan to her campaign outstanding.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold opted against the Senate contest, but her exploratory committee raised about $207,000. It later returned more than $45,000 in contributions and had $103,000 remaining in the bank.

These candidates can keep their accounts open indefinitely, perhaps using the money for future federal campaigns.

The remaining candidates in the race — all lesser-known contenders — posted meager totals and none had more than $25,000 left to start the month: 

  • Stephany Rose Spaulding, a Colorado Springs professor, raised more than $41,000 and has less than $11,000 in the bank.
  • Michelle Ferrigno Warren, an immigration advocate, brought in nearly $41,000 and has nearly $23,000 on hand.
  • Lorena Garcia, a nonprofit executive, raised $25,500 and has about $4,500 left.
  • Scientist Trish Zornio raised $16,500 and has more than $23,000 in her account.
  • Psychologist Diana Bray brought in $6,500 and has $16,000 in cash.
  • Christopher Milton, of Breckenridge, reported putting more than $4,300 into his campaign in loans and cash and finished with $3,900.

In addition, the latest batch of federal reports offers a glimpse at the twilight hours of Hickenlooper’s presidential campaign, which he ended in mid-August a week before entering the Senate race.

His presidential campaign filing reported $221,000 in contributions during the third quarter and about $1.2 million in spending. The final donation came Aug. 15, the day he exited the race. 

Hickenlooper gave his presidential campaign $75,000 in loans in mid-September to help close out the account and pay expenses. The committee finished the month with about $7,500 left. The Senate campaign also paid his presidential campaign nearly $29,000 for donor lists, office supplies and insurance. 

Diane Mitsch Bush, Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, speaks to supporters during a rally in Montrose in 2018. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

A clear front-runner emerges in 3rd District Democratic primary

At the congressional level, two races are being watched ahead of the 2020 election. 

In the 6th District that includes Aurora, Democratic first-term U.S. Rep. Jason Crow reported raising nearly $432,000 for his reelection contest. Crow has $1.1 million in the bank.

Former Colorado state Republican Party chairman Steve House, a new challenger, raised more than $202,000 since entering the race in early September. He posted $191,000 in his campaign account at the end of the quarter. 

In the 3rd District that covers southern and western Colorado, Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton reported nearly $160,000 in receipts — just barely edging the $156,000 raised by former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, who lost to him in 2018.

Still, Tipton has more in reserve, finishing with $413,000 in the bank, compared with $184,000 for Mitsch Bush. She’s put $10,820 of her own money into her campaign thus far.

Meanwhile, her rival in the Democratic primary, state Rep. Donald Valdez, raised only about $25,000 after announcing his candidacy in July. He has about $10,000 remaining.

Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette raised nearly $184,000 and finished with $337,000 in the bank. Former state House Speaker Crisanta Duran, who abandoned her primary challenge last week for DeGette’s 1st District seat, raised only $26,000 during the quarter, but had $92,000 left in her account.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet raised $2.1 million for his presidential campaign with about $1.9 million still in the bank. Some 27% of his itemized contributions came from Colorado and 17% from California, reports show.

John Frank

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

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette