Steamboat Springs Money was a significant factor in local and regional 2006 political races.
In two of the three contested, countywide races, the candidate who received the most campaign contributions won the election. Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush received $16,116 in contributions in her race for Routt County commissioner, which she won by garnering 1,000 more votes than Republican Paul Strong, who raised $12,165 through Oct. 29.
In the hotly contested race for Routt County Sheriff, Democrat Gary Wall's $22,599 in contributions helped him defeat Republican Garrett Wiggins, who raised $21,665.
Wall received about 800 more votes than Wiggins, in an election in which a total of 7,845 Routt County voters cast ballots.
The Routt County assessor race was the exception, as Republican Dick Klumker raised $7,350 compared to $5,622 for Democrat Mike Kerrigan and $2,787 for unaffiliated candidate Nancy Terry. Kerrigan won the election by a significant margin, with 4,276 votes compared to 2,062 for Klumker and 1,254 for Terry.
Thee greatest financial difference was in the race for a state House seat in District 57, between three-time incumbent Republican state Rep. Al White of Winter Park, Democrat Andy Gold of Tabernash and Libertarian Mike Kien of Oak Creek.
In a district that includes six counties in Northwest Colorado, White won his fourth consecutive election by garnering 15,631 votes, compared to 8,344 votes for Gold and 836 votes for Kien.
Gold said Friday that money was by far the biggest factor in his race. According to finance reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State's office, Gold raised $12,100 through Oct. 25, and spent $10,600. White, by comparison, used established fundraising sources within the district and in the Denver metro area to raise $76,142, spend $76,643, and win re-election in a year that saw widespread Democratic victories across Routt County, Colorado and the United States.
"The bottom line is that we were out-gunned," Gold said Friday. "There are a lot of things that you can do with money. The most important thing I could have done with more money is I could have brought in a full-time staff. I could have had a campaign manager who could have organized the remote counties and could have helped me run my campaign."
Gold, in his first political campaign, acknowledged that an experienced campaign manager could have helped him avoid mistakes along the campaign trail, such as Gold's $3 billion error during a debate at Steamboat Springs High School on Oct. 10.
While questioning White about a Colorado program that allows energy industries to receive tax credits on a portion of their mineral severance taxes, a program which White supports, Gold said the program cost the state $3 billion in 2005. White disputed the figure.
A day after the debate, Gold said the state assessor's office informed him the energy tax credit actually cost the state $175 million in 2005. Gold said he heard the $3 billion figure from informal sources and retracted its use in the debate.
White said the tax credit is invaluable to keep resulting energy impact grants, which are paid to communities in areas affected by energy exploration, in the coffers of local governments. The Hayden School District, for example, received $345,000 in mineral lease funds this year.
"In the end, people preferred what Al had to offer, and that's how it worked out," Gold said, adding that he will consider running again for the House seat in 2008.
"I absolutely would do a lot of things differently," Gold said. "Having a campaign under my belt would be a tremendous advantage with the experience I gained, the people I met and the knowledge of the industry."
And with the funding sources Gold cultivated in his first campaign.
Building a campaign "war chest" is a multi-year process, a fact recognized by supporters of an amendment to legalize possession of marijuana in Colorado.
"We are not disappointed at all with the results of today's election," wrote Mason Tvert, campaign director for Amendment 44, which failed by a wide, 20 percent margin Tuesday. "This campaign : was just one step in a five- to 10-year battle to make marijuana legal in Colorado.
"If it were possible to make marijuana legal with a $60,000 campaign in a state with nearly three million voters, it would have been done long ago."
Consecutive political successes can exponentially build support for a candidate or issue.
During White's six years in the state House, for example, he has raised more than $200,000 in campaign funding.
Not all candidates agree that money is the best barometer for political success.
"I don't think it was a significant factor in this campaign," Strong said Friday. "I think time was more of a factor than money. I was working full-time, while Diane (Mitsch Bush), being retired, was campaigning full-time."
In addition to campaign staff and coordination, money also allows candidates to buy television or radio advertising and supplies, such as bumper stickers and lawn signs.
Gold said should he run again in 2008, he will have a head start on signs.
"I put a big box of unused campaign signs in a crate, far back in the closet," he said. "But I did not throw them away."
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