In politics, early money is an early indicator

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By Greg Romberg

Emily’s List, an organization that was formed to support the election of pro-choice Democratic women, is named based upon what has become an increasingly true idiom of political campaigns. Emily stands for “Early money is like yeast.” Candidates’ ability to raise funds in the early stages of campaigns has something to do with how they will use that money in their campaigns, but has much more do to with how their campaigns are viewed by others.

Even though we’re still more than a year away from the 2010 general election, the emphasis placed on fund-raising leading into the reporting deadline that passed Sept. 30 created a flurry of activity that will have a major influence on how many races across the country play out.

Colorado’s U.S. race is one of them. September was a busy month, as former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff announced that he would challenge Sen. Michael Bennet in a Democratic primary. Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Bennet to the seat in January to fill a vacancy created when Ken Salazar resigned to become President Obama’s secretary of the interior. The same week that Romanoff announced, former lieutenant governor Jane Norton entered the race for the Republican nomination.

Romanoff raised $200,000 in just over two weeks. That total shows he can find support but still leaves him trailing Bennet, who had raised more than $2.5 million when the prior reporting period ended in June, by a significant amount. Norton received contributions of over a half-million dollars in the same time period. That support, when coupled with some of the high-powered endorsements she’s received, will likely clear the deck of other Republican candidates and allow her to begin to focus on the general election.

Colorado’s race for governor has created similar interest as the three most notable candidates each earned substantial contributions. Democratic incumbent Ritter raised $452,000 in the quarter and continues to build resources for what will undoubtedly be a spirited campaign. Both his major Republican challengers had successful quarters as well. Former congressman Scott McInnis recorded $549,000, and state Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry raised $416,000. All three of the major candidates for governor did well. Penry’s fund-raising success shows he is a viable candidate and ensures a competitive primary. Early polls have shown McInnis with a significant lead in the GOP primary, which is likely at least partly due to his higher name recognition.

On a local note, Evergreen businessman and Republican gubernatorial aspirant Dan Maes reported raising $12,000, which would be a respectable showing for a first-time candidate running for the legislature, but which likely proves conventional wisdom that he cannot be viable against two more experienced and better known opponents such as McInnis and Penry.

Early money is like yeast. While this campaign reporting period will thin out the big races to some extent, enough early money has been spread through the campaigns of people who want to serve as our U.S. senator and governor that at least the top six candidates can all claim enough support to continue.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.