Why Hancock Won

June 8 2011, 2:11 PM

With his trouncing of state Senator Chris Romer yesterday, City Councilman Michael Hancock proved that John Hickenlooper isn’t the only one who can run a positive campaign and win. Most impressive about Hancock’s victory—despite a few campaign trail gaffes—was how thoroughly he dominated Romer in the runoff. Hancock won 58 percent of the ballot (70,780 votes), leaving the long-assumed frontrunner Romer with only about 42 percent of the electorate (and 51,082 votes). The May 3rd Municipal Election served as the de facto “primary,” because only the top two vote-getters advanced. Those results:

Romer: 32,328 votes (28.4%)
Hancock: 30,974 votes (27.2%)
Mejia: 29,310 votes (25.7%)
Linkhart: 10,752 votes (9.4%)
Others: 10,558 votes (9.3%)

Assuming that Romer and Hancock held on to nearly all their votes from May 3rd, the key to the runoff was winning over the supporters of Mejia and Linkhart, along with the rest of the undecideds. This is where Hancock showed his utter dominance. Of these voters (58,560), more than two-thirds swarmed to the Hancock camp (39,806 votes). Romer, despite spending more money than any candidate in Denver mayoral history and boasting an impressive list of endorsements that included Mejia, former mayor Federico Pena, and the Denver Post, only netted 18,754 (32 percent).

How did Hancock convince these voters to back him? Analysis from smart folks such as Jeremy Meyer, Mike Littwin, and Eli Stokols has pointed to the negativity of the Romer campaign, and to Hancock’s impressive biography. But it might boil down to something simpler. As a Democratic operative said to me a few weeks ago: “ABC—Anybody But Chris.”

Despite his financial resources, prominent endorsements, and political pedigree, Romer simply wasn’t very likable to many voters. As the University of Denver’s Seth Masket has written, Romer had a “ceiling” of people willing to vote for him. This isn’t to take anything away from Hancock. He ran a solid campaign, has a great story, and worked for eight years on the City Council with John “Mr. Popular” Hickenlooper. But Hancock seems to have benefitted from not being Chris Romer. And had Mejia faced Romer yesterday, he’d probably be Denver’s 45th mayor today. It turns out that it wasn’t the runoff election that mattered—it was actually the first round.