Every Vote Counts, And Costs a Lot

July 30 2006, 1:52 AM
The race for the open seat in congressional district seven is expected to be the most watched in the entire country, and it's going to be expensive. Republican Rick O'Donnell announced last week that his campaign had already raised more money ($1.8 million) at this point than any candidate in CD7 had ever raised...for their entire campaign. O'Donnell has the luxury of being able to build up his campaign warchest while three Democrats - Ed Perlmutter, Peggy Lamm and Herb Rubenstein - fight it out in advance of the Aug. 8 primary. When the final vote is counted, a significant amount of money is going to be spent courting those voters. The Colorado Secretary of State estimates that voter turnout in the primary will be about 15 percent of the overall registered voter population, which is actually an increase over primary turnouts from previous years. In a competitive primary like we're seeing in CD7, a 15 percent turnout rate translates to roughly 18,000 votes; a higher percentage of people will vote in the Democratic primary than will vote statewide (20,000 voted in the CD7 primary in 2002), but we're still only looking at less than 25,000 total votes. As of July 27, Lamm had spent $474,000 and had an additional $231,388 cash on hand - much of which will probably be spent before the primary is over. Perlmutter had spent $817,495 and had an additional cash on hand of $252,880 (again, much of which will likely be spent). Rubenstein had spent $196,000 and had $2,500 cash on hand. If you're getting a little lost in the numbers, don't worry, because the end is near. If we look only at the amount of money the three Democratic candidates have spent to this point, we come up with $1,487,495. If 25,000 people vote in the Democratic primary, that adds up to a hefty $59 per voter that will have been spent - and that's a very low estimate. It is not impossible that the average amount spent per voter will approach $100 when the primary is over, because the $59 amount doesn't include the hundreds of thousands of dollars that issue committees will spend on behalf of Lamm and Perlmutter but which is not reported in the candidates' financial filings. A $59 per voter cost may seem high, or it might not, so let's make a quick comparison. At this same point in the Democratic primary of 2002 (the last time there was a primary on either side in CD7), Dave Thomas had spent $222,184 and had another $285,085 cash on hand; Mike Feeley, the eventual winner, had spent $194,779 and had another $84,444 cash on hand. Even if we add up expenditures and cash 0n hand - which we didn't do in the previous comparison - we only get $786,492. Considering that 20,000 people voted in 2002, the average cost per voter was $39. In short, the cost of winning the Democratic primary in the most-watched race in the entire country is going to be at least double, probably triple, and perhaps four times what it cost per voter just four years ago. The big prize for the eventual winner, of course, is the right to fight in November for the whole enchilada. To get there, they'll have to jump back on the phone raising more money still, because O'Donnell already has more cash in the bank than anybody has ever raised in CD7. And you thought you had money problems.