Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Reflections on the results

The 2007 Denver municipal election has come and gone, with just a few runoff races to follow. What should we make of the results?

I win again!: The last time an incumbent lost in this city was in 1987, when both Mary DeGroot and Dave Doering upended City Council members John Silchia and Nieves McIntyre, respectively. So it comes as no surprise that every incumbent won in 2007 as well.

Tiny protest: In March, The Kenney Group reported that Mayor John Hickenlooper's approval rating was 84%. The latest polling figures showed him receiving 87% of the vote, minus any write-in votes. So it looks like Danny Lopez was successful in getting Denver's protest vote - it just wasn't nearly enough.

Chinny chin chin: Carol Boigon was uncomfortably close to losing, beating Carol Campbell by just 5%. That's an amazing result when you consider that Boigon is an incumbent running against a first-time candidate. Not only that, but Boigon raised $146,000 to Campbell's $9,000. And Boigon didn't even spend two-thirds of her money, retaining more than $90,000 cash on hand. I guess she didn't want to empty her "rainy day" fund quite so soon.

Hey, big spender: Judy Montero raised more than $145,000 to win just 2704 votes, or $53.84 per vote. That's far and away the most expensive price, beating out Shelly Watter's $34.93 and Michael Hancock's $32.54. In losing efforts, I'll bet Niccolo Casewit is wondering whether he should have spent $23.13 for each of his 160 votes, and Ben Romero may wonder whether $8000 was the right price for just 359 supporters.

The Acrimonious Eighth: Darrell Watson is no longer in the running for the Council District 8 seat. His frequent boasts of being "the clear frontrunner" were nothing more than hype, and one suspects the acrimonious attacks laid against candidate Carla Madison backfired, causing the loss of second place by just 74 votes. Meanwhile, Sharon Bailey remained above the fray and came out on top.

Neato for Nevitt: In the tight Council District 7 race, Chris Nevitt nearly pulled off the impossible, falling just 196 votes shy of avoiding a runoff. Shelly Watters beat Julie Connor for second place, but has virtually no chance of winning a runoff. The base of Connor's support was unions and small donors, while Watters gathered big ticket donations from developers. Even if he sits on his hands, the populist Nevitt will gather a disproportionate share of Connor's support and cruise to victory.

Loopy for Lopez: Paul Lopez was even closer to a walkoff victory, needing just 150 votes to avoid a runoff. But that's in part because Council District 3's turnout was so abysmal. Whereas 5,132 voters participated in the 2003 runoff election, just 3,488 showed up for this year's contest. It is unreasonable in the least to expect JoAnne Phillips to overcome her 3-to-1 disadvantage.

And the worst performance goes to...: This year's worst electoral performance was put in by Council District 3's Antoinette Alire. With just 75 votes, she became just the second candidate in a dozen years to receive less than 100 votes. Her only inferior was Jerry Retzlaff, who received 43 votes in his 1999 bid for Council District 10 against incumbent Ed Thomas.

Money votes: Money means votes in virtually every election. The graph below shows a rather clear correlation between money raised and votes received. The only race which upended this conventional wisdom was Council District 8, where Sharon Bailey won a clear majority without going hat-in-hand to every resident, developer, and politico in Denver. Good for her!
All over but the shouting: Don't expect competitive runoff races. In 2003, frontrunners won all but two of the eight runoff elections. That might give hope to challengers, but think again. Come-from-behind victories by Rick Garcia and Rosemary Rodriguez were against May voting margins of just 2% and 5%, respectively. Our three runoff races feature margins of 8% (Bailey over Madison), 20% (Nevitt over Watters), and 30% (Lopez over Phillips).

So to those remaining underdogs, it's either "good luck" or, more likely, "good night."

Update: See also the updated notes on the final results.