Most candidates for the state House and Senate won’t face off until fall, but a handful of primary races are already shaping up to be big money affairs.
In the state Senate, fives races will determine who makes it past June 28, the day of the primary election.
All five of those races are in districts that are solidly Democratic or Republican, so the results of those primary elections will likely determine who comes to the Capitol as a Senator next January.
What distinguishes these primaries from the general election is that fundraising is borne primarily by the candidates rather than relying on state or county political parties or the outside organizations that will pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the general election.
In several races, candidates are relying more on personal bank accounts than donors.
The biggest race, at least in terms of the amount of money being raised, is in the Senate district being vacated by Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver, who is term-limited. The three-way race is among Rep. Lois Court; Erin Bennett of 9 to 5, the working women’s association; and Dr. Steve Sherick.
The most recent campaign finance filings on the race show the three candidates collectively have raised more than $290,000. Sherick has led the pack, raising more than $132,000, followed by Court with $124,000 and Bennett with $39,000.
Sherick raised more than $30,000 in the first quarter of 2016, but that included $12,000 of his own money used to cover expenses. Court raised about $11,000 in the first quarter, including a $400 contribution from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $200 from Lieutenant Governor-to-be Donna Lynne. Bennet raised $10,633.
The race to succeed term-limited Democratic Sen. Michael Johnston, also of Denver, has prompted six-figure fundraising, too. The primary race is between Rep. Angela Williams and Jon Biggerstaff, who works in finance for a local non-profit.
One of the dividing lines in this race: presidential endorsements. Williams has endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president, while Biggerstaff, who was unaffiliated until recently, supports Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in that race.
Williams has a commanding lead on the fundraising, based on recent campaign finance filings, with more than $90,000 raised. Biggerstaff has brought in just under $17,000.
Two Democratic lawmakers are vying to succeed Sen. Morgan Carroll of Aurora. Reps. Rhonda Fields and Su Ryden are both-term limited in the House but looking to extend their legislative careers.
Fields so far leads the fundraising battle, with more than $60,000 raised to Ryden’s $36,000. However, at the end of the quarter, the two are neck-in-neck on what they have left in the bank.
There are two hotly-contested primary races in safe Republican districts.
The most visible hotly-contested primary race in a safe Republican district is between Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt and former Rep. Bob Gardner, in Colorado Springs.
Fundraising has so far favored Gardner, who has raised $64,000 to Klingenschmitt’s $45,000. However, at the end of the first quarter of 2016, Klingenschmitt has much more cash on hand, about $21,000, to Gardner’s $9,700. But Klingenschmitt has also pumped $21,000 of his own money into the race, including $15,000 in the first quarter of 2016.
The other Republican state Senate primary is in Parker over the seat currently held by Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel, who is term-limited.
The race to succeed Scheffel features three political newcomers. Jess Loban is a small business owner and veteran. Veteran Ben Lyng, who is well connected politically through the Leadership Program of the Rockies, is also running for his first elected statewide office. He’s married to Michelle Balch Lyng, who served as a contract communications director for the Jefferson County School District during last year’s tumultuous recall election. Insurance agent James Smallwood, Jr. also is vying for the Senate seat, winning his way into the primary through the petition process.
Smallwood has so far led the pack in fundraising, with almost $60,000 so far raised. But more than $47,000 of that is in loans he’s made to his campaign. Lyng raised $38,000 in the first quarter of 2016, although more than $25,000 of that was money out of his own pocket.
Loban has raised about $$600, including $2,700 from his own funds. He’s also received a $400 contribution from Ed McVaney, the co-founder of JD Edwards, who is well known for making large-dollar contributions to conservative school board candidates throughout Colorado.
Photo credit: Mike Poresky Creative Commons, Flickr.