The deadline for 3rd Quarter political donations is Monday, and while we likely won't start hearing about Q3 totals until mid-October, we can still look ahead at which candidates are under the most pressure to show a strong three months.
Because of the holidays and the general lack of interest from non-politicos at such an early point in the campaign season, the fourth quarter of an off-year in politics is usually about as quiet as it gets for fundraising. That leaves Q3 as the best barometer of a candidate's strength heading into an election year. As we've said time and time again in this space, the amount of money a candidate raises early-on is strongly correlated to how well they are likely to perform in November. Why? Because big donors write big checks to candidates that look like winners; sure, people write checks for other reasons, but there's a reason that 2010 Republican Gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes had a hard time finding two nickels to rub together.
Early fundraising figures are a great indicator of the strength of a candidate's base of support, and they also provide hints as to how a particular race is going to shape out in the end. Candidates who don't raise a lot of money early in the process don't usually end up hitting financial home runs as Election Day gets closer. Strong fundraising numbers can hold off potential primary challengers, while weak performances can bring out the wolves. With all this in mind, we take a look at the candidates to watch as Q3 comes to a close.
Incumbent Democrat Mark Udall is sitting on a warchest of about $3.5 million already, and he won't have trouble increasing that total. For the three Republican candidates, however, the Q3 filing period is the first opportunity to get a look at their fundraising abilities.
Republican Owen Hill has a lot riding on Q3. He stayed in the race for the GOP nomination after Ken Buck decided to give it another shot, and he needs to show that he has the ability to raise serious money if he wants to remain a real contender. If Hill's numbers are weak, he's going to start getting a lot of phone calls from Republicans encouraging him to drop out of the race. For comparison's sake, when Buck ran for Senate in 2010, his first quarterly report (Q2, 2009) showed about $333k in contributions — and Buck didn't have the entire quarter to raise money since he didn't file until mid-April. The numbers are even higher for 2014; both Andrew Romanoff and Mike Coffman raised more than $500k in Q2 for one congressional district. Because of those numbers, and because Buck is considered the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, Hill probably needs to show at least $500k in order to remain truly competitive.
For Republican Randy Baumgardner and his mustache, the milestones are a bit different. If Baumgardner can show about $500k in contributions, he instantly becomes a viable candidate and will start getting a lot more return phone calls. We'd call that scenario unlikely, so the goal for Baumgardner is probably to show enough fundraising ability to allow him to continue playing Senate candidate for another 3-6 months while he raises his profile among Republicans for another day. Anything less than $100k should put an end to Baumgardner's 2014 effort.
Incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper is going to raise a lot of money — he's proven as much on many occasions, so we'll learn little from anything short of a complete dud of a quarter (less than $100k).
Republican Tom Tancredo is the only one of the three GOP contenders to have been in the race long enough to go through a complete three-month quarter, so his fundraising totals will be difficult to spin if they aren't strong. Tancredo was the first Republican in the race, but he's been pretty quiet since formally entering the field in May. Plenty of people will be looking at his report to see just how serious Tancredo is taking the race for Governor. Tancredo only has about $30k in the bank as of July, so he needs to show at least $200k from Q3 in order to keep Republicans from turning their focus toward Scott Gessler and Greg Brophy instead.
Gessler's Q3 report will be a little misleading, since he can transfer funds from his account for Secretary of State (which he kept open while pondering an "official" run for Governor). Perhaps the most interesting numbers to see will be those of Brophy; he won't be reporting a full quarter, since he didn't file his paperwork to run until July, but we should get a sense of the "low-hanging fruit" that will form the base of Brophy's support. For Brophy, total figures will matter less than who is donating to his campaign; he needs to show that some big-name, big-money backers are willing to put their checkbooks behind him.
There are a lot of questions to be answered in this race, and the Q3 reporting should provide plenty of answers. This will be our first real chance to see what Republicans Cynthia Coffman and Mark Waller can raise as top-tier candidates. Can Coffman raise enough money to run a competitive race while her husband, Mike, is making the same phone calls? Are there enough big donors willing to write max checks to two Coffmans? Does Waller have the ability to produce the kind of fundraising numbers that can force a serious, all-out primary with Coffman?
On the Democratic side, this is a pivotal moment for Don Quick. With one and a half fundraising periods under his belt, Quick's warchest has yet to pass the $100k mark. Democrats have been rightly concerned about his ability to run a serious statewide campaign, and a poor Q3 could prove disastrous for 2014. A weak Q3 could have Democrats looking for another candidate to run for AG, but Quick might also find that big-money Democrats just decide to focus their money and attention somewhere else instead. In 2010, Democrat Stan Garnett didn't enter the race until April, and he was running against incumbent Republican John Suthers. Garnett lost that race, but he still managed to raise about $440k in seven months. With no Democratic opposition and an open seat in front of him, Quick is out of excuses if he can't show a bare minimum of $100k raised in Q3.
We know that incumbent Republican Walker Stapleton can raise money (critics will say fundraising is about all he's good at), so there's little intrigue here. The Q3 excitement will fall primarily on the Democratic side, where Betsy Markey gets a chance to show if she still has the fundraising ability that she proved in her 2008 and 2010 campaigns in CD-4. Broomfield Mayor Pat Quinn, meanwhile, needs to prove that he can either a) raise significant money, or b) is willing to self-fund to a serious degree. A poor Q3 report for Quinn should all but guarantee that Markey will be the Democratic nominee.
Secretary of State
Democrat Joe Neguse could see his entire 2014 history play out based on what he reports in Q3. With Gessler running for Governor rather than re-election, Republicans are waiting to see if someone like Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder Pam Anderson will jump in the race. Republicans want to keep this seat, but if Neguse can come out of the gates with an impressive Q3 report, top-tier GOP candidates might think twice about whether this is a race they want to run. If Neguse can show more than $125k, he'll have a lot of momentum heading into 2014. Anything less than $100k, meanwhile, should guarantee that someone like Anderson will be joining the field (though that might already be a foregone conclusion).
This is the only competitive 2014 congressional race thus far, but oddly enough, the Q3 reports won't matter much unless either Romanoff or Coffman report a sizable drop from their prior fundraising efforts. As one of the top races to watch in the country in 2014, there will be no shortage of money funneled into third-party advertising for or against both candidates. Both candidates will likely report numbers in the $500k range once again, and both candidates will push on ahead trying to do the same thing in Q4. This is one Colorado race that won't be decided by money, because everybody is going to have plenty to throw around.