Show Me the (Q2) Money!

There’s an old business axiom that it takes money in order to make money. The same can be true in a political campaign, which is why this will be a stressful week for many Colorado politicians.

Candidates are scrambling this week to bring in those last-minute donations before the second quarter deadline on Saturday, and while the 2008 primary elections are still 13 months away in Colorado, early fundraising numbers can make or break a candidacy. Candidates need money in order to get their message in front of voters, but they also need strong fundraising numbers in order to stay competitive in the primary before the primary: The race for perception. Image is everything in a high-profile campaign, and if you look like a winner, you’ll be treated like a winner.  At the same time, the more money you raise, the more money you’ll continue to raise; people donate to candidates that look like winners as much as they donate to candidates whom they agree with on policy issues.

With that in mind, here’s a look at what’s at stake for several Colorado candidates running for higher office in 2008…U.S. Senate
Democrat Mark Udall had $1.5 million in the bank at the end of the first quarter of this year; that may seem like a lot of money, but it was considerably less than many other Senate candidates around the country had raised to that point. Udall is currently considered the frontrunner for the Senate seat over Republican Bob Schaffer, and a strong second quarter of fundraising will likely drive even more money towards the longtime congressman while assuaging concerns that Udall may be moving a little too slowly. Udall raised about $324,000 in the first quarter, and he needs to do better than that in Q2 as a sign of strength. If he doesn’t raise more in Q2 than he did in Q1, Udall will likely start to hear grumblings about his campaign’s readiness.

Schaffer has run for Senate once before, losing a primary to Pete Coors in 2004. One of the knocks on the former congressman during that race was that he was not a good fundraiser, though supporters will say that it would have been hard for anyone to raise a lot of money against the wealthy and well-connected Coors. Schaffer had a clumsy announcement in early May that may have happened sooner than he would have liked, leaving him with less than two full months to raise money before the Q2 deadline.

Schaffer can ease concerns about his fundraising ability with a strong, albeit shortened, second quarter; something between $300,000 and $400,000 for the quarter would be a good showing for him. Schaffer also has a lot to lose with a weak Q2, because there are some in the Republican Party who remain unconvinced that he is the right candidate to take on Udall. A weak quarter from Schaffer – anything less than $200,000 – would be cause for hand-wringing among the state GOP.

The three-way battle to replace Udall in CD-2 is already the busiest congressional primary in the state, and the Q2 fundraising results could have significant implications.

Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald is the early frontrunner here, and she has proven to be a strong fundraiser for Democratic state Senate efforts in the past. Fitz-Gerald has the ability to put up huge fundraising numbers, and anything in the neighborhood of $500,000 would send a clear signal that she is the candidate to beat in CD-2. That may be a tall order, even for Fitz-Gerald, but it would be a surprise (and would raise a few eyebrows) if she didn’t bring in more than $200,000. It will also be worth noting how many of the big power players in Colorado have already cast their lot with Fitz-Gerald.

Jared Polis doesn’t have the same financial needs as the other candidates in this race, because as a multimillionaire, he can afford to put a great deal of his own money into the race. That doesn’t mean that fundraising isn’t important for Polis, however. He needs to show a lot of individual donors and must have some impressive names on his fundraising list in order to avoid the criticism that he is just a rich guy trying to buy his way to victory.

Polis is never going to raise as much money as Fitz-Gerald, in large part because it’s hard to raise money when everybody knows you are filthy rich, but his fundraising efforts will be a barometer of how much support he has as a candidate. For Polis, who donated – and how many people wrote checks – is more important than how much money he raised in total.

The candidate with the most to gain (and lose) from Q2 is Will Shafroth, a relative unknown outside of environmental circles. Fitz-Gerald and Polis are heavyweights as candidates, and Shafroth needs to prove that he is beefy enough to enter the ring with them and not get knocked out in the first round. If Shafroth can report, say, $200,000 in the second quarter, he’ll establish himself as a legitimate challenger in a three-way primary. If he reports in with less than $100,000, then Shafroth will be under tremendous pressure to raise a lot of money in the third quarter (which ends at the end of September).

There’s almost no chance that Shafroth will be able to compete financially with Fitz-Gerald and Polis, but he needs to raise enough money to show potential supporters that he can be in position to steal votes from the two frontrunners. Last year Democrat Ed Perlmutter won a three-way primary against Peggy Lamm and Herb Rubenstein in CD-7, but it became clear months earlier that Rubenstein wasn’t going to be a big factor when he couldn’t raise any money. Shafroth is a better candidate than Rubenstein, but he’s in the same position; he needs to prove that he has the support to be a serious contender, and the best way to do that is by asking people to pull out their checkbooks.

Part II – Fundraising expectations in other congressional races.