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Hickenlooper raises big bucks despite pandemic, but Gardner still boasts most money in U.S. Senate race

The latest campaign filings for Colorado contests also show a tight Democratic battle in the 3rd Congressional District

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Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper raised $4.1 million in the first three months of the year, topping all his rivals including U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, but his bank account is still only half the total of Republican incumbent.

The former governor brought in nearly 10 times the $422,000 raised by his chief opponent in the Democratic primary, former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is expected to qualify for the June ballot at Saturday’s state party assembly.

Scroll down to see a chart of U.S. Senate and congressional spending reports from the first quarter 2020 filings.

Hickenlooper, who secured his ballot slot in March, has now raised a total of $9 million since entering the race in late August, compared to the $13 million Gardner raised since he took office in January 2015, according to the latest campaign reports filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission.

Campaign cash helps candidates get their messages out to voters, and attracting donors is often seen as a sign of a candidate’s strength. Hickenlooper is one of four Democrats in toss-up races to outraise Republican incumbents in the first three months of the year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, an organization that tracks campaign fundraising. 

In March, the coronavirus pandemic limited in-person fundraising and political activity, and forced campaigns to consider whether it was insensitive to raise money. But it was still Gardner’s best fundraising month, while Hickenlooper and Romanoff saw slight declines compared with January and February.

One other money race getting attention is the 3rd Congressional District, where two Democrats both outraised GOP Rep. Scott Tipton to set up an expensive primary showdown.

Even though Hickenlooper outraised him, Gardner remains in the strongest position in the election year. He raised $2.5 million from January through the end of March and is sitting on $9.6 million in cash. Hickenlooper has nearly half that amount with $4.9 million in the bank after spending nearly four times as much as Gardner in the first three months of the year.

“Our campaign’s cash-on-hand advantage will allow us to have the necessary resources to defeat the far left in 2020,” Gardner campaign manager Casey Contres said in a written statement. 

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The Democrats are likely to spend down their cash ahead of the June 30 primary. Two other candidates still seeking to qualify for the ballot raised much smaller sums. Romanoff, who had $806,000 in his account at the start of the month, told supporters during a recent online town hall that fundraising is important, but he’s not worried about November. 

“We do need to raise enough money to get on TV to reach the voters,” he said, asking people to support the campaign. But he added: “I’m not worried about raising money in the general election. … Whoever the Democratic nominee is, that Democrat will have all sorts of friends across the country who will make it easy at least … to compete with Cory Gardner.”

The campaign’s totals don’t include the tens of millions more that outside organizations are expected to spend in the race.

MORE: What the Colorado campaign trail looks like in the age of coronavirus, and what it means for the election

Gardner’s strongest month is March, after Trump visit in February

President Donald Trump came to Colorado on Feb. 20 to boost Gardner’s campaign — and raise money for his own reelection — with a massive arena rally and fundraiser on the sidelines.

In the days surrounding the visit, GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund sent emails and text messages urging people to contribute to Gardner’s campaign via the Republican fundraising platform WinRed. His strongest month on WinRed was in February, when he raised nearly $262,000 of his total $679,000 for the quarter.

President Donald Trump listens as Cory Gardner speaks during a campaign rally Feb. 20, 2020, at the World Arena in Colorado Springs. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Gardner has plenty of help raising money. Joint fundraising committees that raise big bucks for multiple candidates and party committees are key to his strategy. He belongs to 16 such committees, and seven of them were collectively responsible for $1.6 million of his first-quarter fundraising.

More will come from the Colorado Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee created in February to benefit Gardner’s Senate campaign, Trump’s reelection bid and the Republican National Committee. The committee took in more than $966,000 in February and March but didn’t report distributing any proceeds to Gardner yet.

But nearly half of the top 30 donors to Colorado Trump Victory have already donated the maximum to Gardner’s campaign, meaning the money will go to Trump or the RNC, whose efforts will still benefit the entire Republican ticket. The top donors include Terence Stevinson, owner of Stevinson Automotive, who donated $100,000. Medved Auto’s John Medved and his wife, Debra; former University of Colorado President Bruce Benson and his wife, Marcy; and investors Ralph and Patrica Nagel, each of whom donated $17,500.

Gardner’s campaign emphasized their hefty bank balance in a statement about the latest fundraising filing. “Every day, our grassroots supporters continue to keep our momentum strong on the path to November,” Contres said.

MORE: We followed the money to see how Cory Gardner is raising big cash for his reelection campaign

Small donors help Hickenlooper, who’s spending big on campaign

On the Democratic side, Hickenlooper’s campaign is spending at a faster clip than his competitors. He spent $2.4 million in the first three months, compared with Gardner’s $657,000 and Romanoff’s $302,000.

Canvassing for petition signatures was the biggest expense Hickenlooper, who paid a Utah firm that also operates in Colorado nearly $423,000. The Democrat’s campaign spent nearly $400,000 on digital services and $392,000 on salaries. Gardner’s biggest expense was $100,000 for salaries.

Hickenlooper’s campaign noted the fundraising success, but also pointed out the outside help Gardner is getting. A dark money nonprofit Unite for Colorado spent more than $500,000 on ads attacking Hickenlooper last month. Democratic and GOP super PACs are already buying up ad time for fall.

“Republican groups … reserved nearly $12 million in TV ad time, more than double what Democrats have reserved in Colorado so far,” Hickenlooper spokesman Ammar Moussa wrote in an email. “Senator Gardner will be able to count on his friends at the NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Committee), President Trump, and his own sizable war chest to dramatically outspend us.”

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Hickenlooper also is getting big help. A Democratic super PAC spent nearly $640,000 on ads attacking Gardner last month, part of a much larger campaign that will help the party’s nominee. Hickenlooper’s campaign also benefited from joint fundraisers, the reports show, reaping nearly $443,000 from five of eight committees he belongs to. 

It’s relatively unusual for candidates facing primary contests to participate in joint fundraising committees. But when Hickenlooper entered the Senate contest last August after exiting his presidential bid, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed him and extended help with fundraising. That drew criticism from Romanoff and others in the once-crowded Senate contest.

Hickenlooper raised nearly $3 million from donors large and small from around the country through the online platform ActBlue. Plenty of that money is coming from out of state. 

In the most recent three months, only 33% of Hickenlooper’s itemized contributions came from Colorado donors, the same as Gardner. Hickenlooper raised 18% from California donors and 15% from New Yorkers, while Gardner got 13% from Floridians and 8% from residents of Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, nearly 90% of Romanoff’s first quarter itemized cash came from Coloradans. 

About 37% of his total came from unitemized donors who gave less than $200 total. That compares with 28% from unitemized donors for Hickenlooper and 26% for Gardner.

Expensive Democratic primary battle shapes up in 3rd District

One other major congressional race is evident in the latest fundraising numbers. Two Democrats each outraised five-term incumbent GOP Rep. Scott Tipton during the first quarter.

Both will likely spend much of their cash battling against each other in the primary after making the ballot in a close vote among party activists at the Democratic congressional assembly. The district ranges from Pueblo in the east to Grand Junction in the west and stretches north to Steamboat Springs.

James Iacino, who won 49.4% of the assembly vote, put nearly $272,000 of his own cash into his campaign and raised $162,000 from others for $434,000

Former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, who lost to Tipton in 2018, raised $363,000, all from donors. She won 47.5% of the assembly vote.

Diane Mitsch Bush, a Democratic candidate in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, speaks to supporters during a rally in Montrose on Oct. 27, 2018. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Tipton, meanwhile, raised about $236,000, but he reported nearly $626,000 in the bank. His GOP challenger, Rifle restaurateur Lauren Boebert, raised only about $45,000. The two are competing to get on the Republican primary ballot in digital voting that goes through Friday.

In the 6th Congressional District , first-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Jason Crow raised $539,000 and had nearly $2.5 million in the bank at the start of April. His GOP challenger, former state party chairman Steve House, raised only about $91,000 and had $409,000 on hand.

(Scroll to the right to see the entire table. Click column headers to sort.)

Updated 7 a.m. April 17, 2020: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the percentage of the vote Diane Mitsch Bush won at the 3rd Congressional District Democratic assembly. She took 47.5% of the vote.


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