CD-2 Dem Primary: Most Expensive Ever in U.S.?

Your Vote: $183.60

If you’re a Democrat in Colorado’s second congressional district, you’ll see the value of your primary election vote more than quadruple in the two years between 2006 and 2008, from $39.29 per vote in 2006 to an estimated $183.60 in 2008.

The Democratic primary to represent the district in Congress may end up the most expensive U.S. House primary election ever held in the United States. The three candidates — State Sen. President Joan Fitz-Gerald, environmentalist Will Shafroth and philanthropist Jared Polis — are expected to raise a total of about $6 million to contest the seat.

None of the major watchdog groups seems to track primary spending as an independent financial category. The most expensive elections ever held in the U.S. were both general elections. In 2006, a special election in California’s 50th congressional district cost about $14 million, and a Wisconsin eighth district cost $8 million. So while we can’t be sure, it would seem that $6 million for a primary will at least put it in the running for the most expensive ever.

In 2006, 23,725 votes were cast in the CD-2 Democratic primary. Incumbent Rep. Mark Udall spent $932,188 on that election — both the primary and the general election. The most votes cast in the district primary since 1998, Udall’s first electoral victory, were 32,679 in 2004. The fewest were 13,205 in 2002. My figure of $183.60 per vote in 2008 assumes that the 2008 primary turnout will match the 2004 record turnout. But a candidate might be able to win this election with as few as 15,000 votes in total. If they spend their $2 million wisely.

But the cost is only one of several interesting aspects of the campaign as it begins to get under way. The district has three appealing candidates running for a single seat. No Republican opposition has arisen yet, so it appears at this point that the winner of the Democratic primary will go on to Congress.

But while the candidates are all appealing, their positions on the issues will seem very much alike to all but the most studious voter. All three can be characterized as liberals within the Colorado meaning of the word. All three have demonstrated strengths and at least one obvious weakness.

So now that they’ve raised all that money, what are they going to spend it on? How does each candidate plan to differentiate himself or herself from the others? How will the most expensive Democratic primary in U.S. history be run? Over the next three days, I’ll present each of the campaigns’ likely strategies, the result of several weeks of interviews and research.

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Dan Whipple

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