DENVER | Colorado Republicans have grown accustomed to losing the fundraising battle with their Democratic opponents, and this year is no exception. What’s different — at least so far — are the results.
Republicans haven’t won a Senate or governor’s race here in 12 years, but with one week before the Nov. 4 election, eight of the last nine polls show Republican Rep. Cory Gardner leading by a handful of points in his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.
Meanwhile, Republican Bob Beauprez is locked in a statistical tie with Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in the governor’s race.
The polls may be close, but not the fundraising. Mr. Gardner’s $9.3 million represents only about a third of the $27 million raised in the race, while Mr. Udall has amassed the other two-thirds, or $17.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The disparity is even greater in the governor’s race. The most recent campaign finance reports filed online show Mr. Hickenlooper raising $4.8 million, or more than three times as much as the $1.4 million collected by Mr. Beauprez.
Nobody’s willing to declare just yet that money is overrated when it comes to politics, but the ability of the Republicans to stay competitive this year shows that Colorado Democrats may have reached the financial point of diminishing returns, said Republican strategist Dick Wadhams.
“I’ve always felt like there’s a saturation point in races like this. That after you buy a certain level of television, what you pile on top of that doesn’t really have much impact,” said Mr. Wadhams, the former head of the Colorado Republican Party.
The GOP has struggled to win races for the last decade thanks to the so-called “Colorado model” or “blueprint,” a progressive political machine fueled by enormous sums from the so-called “gang of four” multimillionaires determined to turn the formerly red state blue.
Democrats now control both houses of the state legislature, the governor’s office and both U.S. Senate seats, even though registered Republican voters have long outnumbered Democrats in Colorado. The conservative group Citizens United released a documentary last week on the progressive takeover called “Rocky Mountain Heist,” which has aired in Denver and Colorado Springs.
Even though they’re once again being outspent, Republicans enjoy a number of nonfinancial advantages this year, say analysts: strong candidates, President Obama’s collapsing approval ratings, Obamacare headaches and the Democratic state legislature’s overreach on gun control that led to the 2013 recall of two Democratic state senators.
Mr. Wadhams said the Senate race is an example of where piling on more money not only didn’t help, but might have hurt. Shortly after Mr. Gardner entered the race in March, pro-Udall groups flooded the airwaves with “war on women” attacks, but with no appreciable impact on the polls.
“I think that heavy financial advantage may have even backfired on Udall. Because what did they use that money for? To just unmercifully pound Cory Gardner literally for seven months on the same issue,” Mr. Wadhams said. “I think they finally turned voters off, and I think the evidence is pretty clear now that they turned off even women swing voters.”
Still, many Colorado politicos assumed a year ago that the Democrats’ superior fundraising would enable them to paper over any weaknesses. What many observers may not have anticipated is the Republicans’ success in leveling the playing field on outside spending.
In 2010, the last year with both a gubernatorial and Senate race, liberal super PACs outspent their conservative counterparts in Colorado by a whopping 150 to 1, according to a 2012 analysis by The Denver Post’s Karen Crummy.
This year, a Denver Post analysis on outside Senate spending released Sunday shows that pro-Udall groups have raised $29.2 million, but that pro-Gardner groups aren’t far behind at $26.8 million. And for all the Democratic attacks on the much-maligned Koch brothers, they aren’t even among the top spenders.
Figures from the Center for Responsive Politics show conservative PACs are led by Crossroads GPS, with $8.6 million, followed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association.
On the Democrat side, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee leads with $7 million, followed by NextGen Climate Action, the Senate Majority PAC and the League of Conservation Voters.
Colorado Democrats are counting on their vaunted ground game to beat back whatever Republican wave may be coming in November. The state’s new Democrat-pushed election law, which ushered in all-mail voting and same-day voter registration, is also expected to help Democrats bridge the voter enthusiasm gap.
So far, however, Republicans have been turning out in larger numbers than Democrats or unaffiliated voters. Figures released Monday by the secretary of state’s office show 42.8 percent of ballots received were cast by Republicans, followed by 32.4 percent by Democrats and 23.8 percent by unaffiliated voters.
“Expect a late night on Nov. 4,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said in a Denver Post op-ed. “I doubt we will be able to call these races before the 10 p.m. news cycle.”