Sandra Fish of The Colorado Sun outlined today some big-picture campaign spending takeaways from state races in Colorado, with the main takeaway being that Gov. Jared Polis was the biggest spender of them all in 2022.
You can argue about what Polis’ self-funding means in relation to elections and campaign finance norms and whatnot, but remember this: Polis WON. He defeated Republican
Hiedi Heidi Ganahl by 20 points. We’ll come back to this race a bit later, but the outcome is an important context to consider when looking at these numbers.
For our (play) money, there are a couple of other totals that are significantly more interesting. For example, take a look at the top two Republican spenders in this chart:
“Senate Majority Fund” and “Unite for Colorado Action” combined to spend nearly $13 million in 2022. “Unite” spent a portion of its total fundraising on canvassing for Republican State House candidates, but the bulk of this nearly $13 million went toward GOP efforts to retake the majority in the State Senate.
One year ago today, Democrats controlled the Colorado State Senate by a 20-15 margin. When Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson left the Republican Party to become a Democrat in August, it shifted the numbers to a 21-14 Democratic majority. After all the votes were counted in November 2022, Democrats had increased their majority even further; when the legislature reconvenes in a few weeks, Democrats will hold a 23-12 advantage in the State Senate.
In short, Republicans in Colorado spent at least $13 million dollars to LOSE TWO SENATE SEATS in 2022. The GOP could have lost those Senate seats for free!
Now, let’s go back to the race for Governor. As the Sun reports:
Polis spent a total of $13.2 million on his reelection, more than three times the $3.7 million spent by his Republican opponent, University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl…
…Polis spent $9 per vote cast in his favor in the general election, less than the $9.72 per vote he spent in the 2018 general election and far less than the nearly $40 per vote he spent winning a four-way primary that year.
By comparison, Ganahl spent $3.77 per vote cast in her favor, which was the second-highest amount by a candidate for state-level statewide office. She put more than $2 million of her own money into her campaign. [Pols emphasis]
There are recent cryptocurrency investors who got a better return on their money than Ganahl; at least those folks didn’t spend millions of dollars destroying their own reputations. The Republican nominee for Governor was barely on television more than you were, but it wasn’t because she lacked the resources to run a viable statewide campaign. Historically-speaking, Ganahl had more than enough money to be a competitive candidate, but she spent it on useless things like airplane banners and social media videos.
Money is important in political campaigns. Only a fool would argue otherwise. But what is often overlooked is how wisely that money is spent. How much more money would it have cost Colorado Republicans to only suffer a net loss of one seat in the State Senate? How many more airplane banners would Ganahl have needed to fund in order to get within single digits of Polis? What if Steve Wells had designed twice as many weird billboards in his Weld County man cave?
Regular life is no different than politics in this regard: Money is only useful to the extent that you find useful things to do with it. Colorado Republicans missed this lesson in 2022.