Those of you in the Denver area may not have noticed the news late last week that Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera has joined the field of Republicans running for congress in CD-5. Rivera becomes the fifth — yes, fifth — candidate set to run in a Republican primary for the right to succeed retiring Rep. Joel Hefley. Many of you Democrats probably don’t care, either, since CD-5 is a Republican stronghold. But you might be interested in a couple of months because of what didn’t happen as a result of such a crowded field.
Colorado’s fifth congressional district is centered in El Paso County in the Colorado Springs area and has been a traditional gimme for Republicans for years. Democrat Jay Fawcett is also running in CD-5, but the overwhelming voter registration numbers (more than 2-to-1 in favor of Republicans over Democrats) make a Fawcett victory highly unlikely. A Democratic victory is not impossible in CD-5, but it’s about as likely as a Republican winning a congressional race in Denver, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1.
Anyway, back to why this all matters: There are now five Republican candidates competing in a district in CD-5 that hasn’t been open for 20 years. Republicans haven’t had to spend more than pocket change to defend Hefley’s seat for years (Hefley normally raised only around $100,000 every two years; Rep. John Salazar raised more than $1 million in his first year in congress), but now five different candidates are busy raising as much money as they can for a primary fight.
Meanwhile, candidates in other districts are fighting it out with these five elephants for the same general pot of money. There’s only so much money to go around, in theory, so a five-way primary could significantly damage the fundraising abilities of candidates facing tough races around the state. If you’ve got $1,000 to give away to candidates in 2006, how much of it do you give to one or more of the five primary candidates in CD-5? You could make the argument that it won’t matter in the long run, because once the primary is decided then donors will go back to giving their money to candidates around the state. But for some candidates, waiting until late August to start getting most of their money is really going to cause a problem.
Take Scott Tipton, for example, who is the Republican candidate in CD-3 (Southern Colorado and the Western Slope) trying to unseat Rep. Salazar. The Republican money machine, as well as big interest groups, are always looking around the country to see which candidates are most in need of their money. That doesn’t mean that the candidates who need the most money will get it; the candidates who are already doing well will get the extra money they need to put them over the top. There is a misperception in politics that big donations put candidates in the best position to win, when in fact the candidates who already have the best chance to win end up raising the most money. Most big donors give their money to the person most likely to win, because then they can call on them for a favor later; you can’t get many favors from somebody who didn’t get elected.
In Tipton’s case, if the busy primary in CD-5 prevents him from raising a lot of money between now and August, he’ll never get on the radar screen of the big donors. You have to have money to raise money, and Tipton might never make it over the hump if too much Republican money is tied up in Colorado Springs.
Republicans should have little trouble keeping an elephant in congress in CD-5, but the net effect could cost them a real shot at unseating a Democrat somewhere else. If you are a Democrat watching Republicans enter the fray in CD-5 like they were giving out free beer, you should be thinking, “The more the merrier!”