Who will win and whether a runoff will be needed remains to be seen, but one thing seems sure about the April mayoral election: It will easily eclipse every previous fundraising record by political candidates in Colorado Springs.
In 2003, four incumbent council members sought to succeed Mary Lou Makepeace as mayor. Collectively, they raised $378,000.
That wouldn’t be enough for a single candidate this year, let alone the four who have thus far either entered or announced plans to enter the race.
“Brian Bahr has set the bar for this election,” said veteran political consultant Sarah Jack. “He’s putting $200,000 of his own money into his campaign, so that’s got to be the starting point for other campaigns.”
Rachel Beck, who helped plan and execute the strong-mayor initiative, doesn’t think that candidates can do it on the cheap.
“Given the addition of six weeks of additional campaigning for the run-off election, and considering how much has been spent on recent ballot issues (such as the strong-mayor), I think serious candidates will need to plan on about $500,000,” she said.
Jack pointed out that a city-wide election is intrinsically expensive.
“Direct mail is incredibly expensive,” she said. “Mailing to every registered voter will cost at least $35,000, and $25,000 of that is just postage. You’ll have to send different mailers to different demographics, and then you’ll have to do it all over in the runoff.”
Bahr’s campaign manager, Kyle Fisk, agreed that the campaign will be expensive for the serious candidates.
“Brian loaned the campaign $100,000,” he said, “and he’s going to match campaign contributions up to another $100,000, so that’s $300,000.”
Will that be enough?
“We do have an aggressive budget,” said Fisk, who declined to be more specific. “It costs resources to get a message out to a city the size of Colorado Springs. That’s why we started our campaign last summer, and that’s why we’re already running four radio spots every day. We need to introduce Brian to the city.”
Another candidate, former City Councilman Richard Skorman, who is expected to formally enter the mayor’s race on Jan. 5, is no slouch at fundraising. Running for council in 2003, Skorman raised more than $70,000, almost all from small donors.
In early December, Skorman announced that he’d run for mayor only if he could get at least 250 campaign volunteers and $50,000 in pledges within the month. He surpassed his goal in six days, with $76,000 in pledges and 286 volunteers.
Downtown businessman Les Gruen, who served as Skorman’s campaign treasurer in 2003, also suggested each candidate would need to spend about $500,000.
“Don’t take this as an official Skorman campaign statement — anything I say is totally my own speculation — but I think it may cost $300,000 to get to the runoff, and another $200,000 for the May showdown.”
In past years, the top vote-getter won the election. The city charter now mandates a runoff six weeks after the election between the top two finishers if no candidate gets a majority of votes cast.
In part, that’s why neither candidate Steve Bach nor his campaign chief of staff, Laura Carno, would talk numbers.
“We’re working through the numbers and the budget,” said Carno. “It’s more complex than it might seem — the possibility of a runoff plays into it. You’re planning for two elections, not one.”
Candidate Buddy Gilmore said money alone won’t help.
“Brian (Bahr) is talking some big numbers,” he said. “I haven’t really started raising money yet. I have a certain number in mind, but I don’t think the race is all about who can raise the most money.”
“You can spend $200,000 and not have a good campaign,” she said. “If you don’t have a good, strong, visionary message, it won’t matter.”
Yet money, or the lack of it, will give candidates a few sleepless nights.
Dave Munger, who entered the race several months ago, recently sat down with a political consulting firm to talk over the numbers.
The company, which Munger declined to identify, gave him some discouraging news.
“They said it would cost $300,000 to $500,000 to get to the runoff,” he said, “and another $200,000 to $300,000 to compete in the runoff. Some of that may be consultants inflating the numbers to make sure they make enough, but it’s pretty daunting.”