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Larimer County logs record turnout, upset victories in Colorado’s 2020 primary elections

Jacy Marmaduke
Fort Collins Coloradoan
Published 6:49 PM EDT Jul 1, 2020

Larimer County’s primary election attracted record turnout as unaffiliated voters seized their first opportunity to vote in a statewide primary and unusually crowded races drove heavy campaigning.

More than 111,000 people cast ballots in Larimer County, representing 47% of active, registered voters as of May 31. Larimer County’s previous record turnout for a state primary was 36.3% in 2018.

Larimer County voters’ Democratic preference for the U.S. Senate was virtually identical to the state at large: About 60% went for former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who will face incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner in November, and about 40% went for opponent Andrew Romanoff.

Locally, the primary brought a few crushing defeats: Small-business owner Mike Lynch raked in double the votes of term-limited State Sen. Vicki Marble and won the Republican nomination for House District 49, the state legislative district covering all of Larimer County outside of Fort Collins and Loveland.

More: Colorado House District 49 Republican primary results: Voters choose Mike Lynch over Vicki Marble

Larimer County commissioner District 3 candidate Jody Shadduck-McNally beat former Windsor Town Board member Myles Baker 3 to 1 for the Democratic nomination.

In the Republican primaries for Larimer County commissioner, Aislinn Kottwitz and Jeff Jensen — the two candidates who easily won the majority of party delegates’ votes at the assembly — both lost by about 20% to their respective competitors, Ben Aste and Bob McCluskey. 

GOP assembly picks also lost the Republican primaries for Senate District 23 and House District 49, indicating that the broader electorate disagreed with party-approved delegates over who should represent Republicans in November.

And you can count Rocky Mountain Gun Owners among the defeated. The gun rights advocacy group’s super PAC funneled money into the Republican races for HD 49 and SD 23, backing Marble for the former and newcomer Rupert Parchment for the latter. Both lost their races, as did two more RMGO-backed statehouse candidates in Weld County.

Still, money seems to have made an impact on local races, with contested county commissioner candidates raking in more than $192,000 between contributions and campaign loans. The best-funded candidates claimed each contested Larimer County commissioner race.

Here are takeaways from Tuesday’s election results.

More: Larimer County commissioner primaries: Shadduck-McNally, Aste, McCluskey win

Larimer County voters preferred the Democratic primary

About 58% of ballots cast in Larimer County were in the Democratic primary, according to incomplete data from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. About 37% of ballots were cast in the Republican primary, with another 5% of ballots still being counted and about 0.4% in the Libertarian primary.

Data about primary participation among unaffiliated voters wasn’t yet available at the county level on Wednesday afternoon, but it’s a fair prediction that unaffiliated voters bumped up participation and were more likely to vote in the Democratic primary than the Republican primary.

Larimer County’s active registered voter population is about 29% Republican, 28% Democrat and 43% unaffiliated.

Statewide, unaffiliated voters cast ballots in the Democratic primaries at more than double the rate they voted in the Republican primary.

Larimer County’s primary preference for Democrats means the Democratic primary winners running for county commissioner got more votes overall than the Republican primary winners. That could signal an advantage for Democrats in the upcoming general election and the possibility of a sea change for an elected body that has long been all or mostly Republican.

Larimer County’s three-member board of commissioners hasn’t included more than one Democrat in at least the last decade. The candidates must live in the district they’re running to represent but are elected countywide.

GOP picks didn’t fare well in the primaries

County Republican and Democratic parties hold assemblies each election cycle to narrow down the ballot for primary races. The delegates who vote are typically active party members who attended local caucuses and volunteered to serve as assembly delegates.

And in the case of GOP assemblies for county commissioner, Senate District 23 and House District 49, party delegates’ choices didn’t predict the primary winner. Party delegates backed losing candidates Marble (61% of the assembly vote to Lynch’s 38%), Parchment (66% to opponent Barbara Kirkmeyer’s 34%), Kottwitz (55% to Aste’s 45%) and Jensen (73% to McCluskey’s 27%).

In McCluskey’s case, he didn’t meet the threshold of assembly support to get on the ballot and had to petition on.

Jensen, reached by phone, said the primary outcome “stunned” him.

Asked about a possible explanation for the primary’s departure from the assembly results, Jensen said, “I don’t have an answer to that, or a theory, quite frankly.”

Lynch, however, had a theory about his own race.

Compared to primary voters, assembly delegates are a small pool of local politicos. About 500 delegates voted in the GOP commissioner races, and fewer than 200 people voted in Lynch’s assembly.

The primary, with thousands of voters who may not be registered with the party at all, is a different ball game.

Lynch said his opponent “had an incumbency in the people that are quote-unquote in the know with the party, but she didn’t have an incumbency in a group of people that was bigger than her previous district.”

Money matters

In all three contested Larimer County commissioner primaries, the winners heavily outspent their opponents. District 2 candidate Bob McCluskey had the most funding of all, with $23,000 in contributions and $30,000 in loans, state campaign finance records sh. He spent more than $10,000 on phone banking, $20,000 on political consulting and $8,000 on signs and advertising space.

Jensen, his opponent, had about $35,500 to work with between fundraising and loans. His campaign spent most of the money on signs, mailers, events and consulting.

Aste, the District 3 Republican winner, raised more than $46,000 between contributions and loans. His campaign spent more than $21,000 on mass mailings and most of the rest on signs. Kottwitz, whose fundraising was entirely contribution-based, raised more than $25,000 but spent only $17,000 of it as of June 26, mostly on signs, mass mailings and fliers.

As for the District 3 Democratic primary candidates, Shadduck-McNally raised about $22,000 and Baker raised more than $6,000, plus $4,000 in loans.

The candidates will need to gear up for another wave of fundraising now, as the November ballot is set for Shadduck-McNally vs. Aste and McCluskey vs. Democrat Kristin Stephens, who won her primary unopposed.

As of June 26, Aste and McCluskey each had less than $500 left in the bank. Shadduck-McNally had more than $10,000 remaining, and Stephens had more than $13,500.

Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support stories like this one by purchasing a digital subscription to the Coloradoan.​​​​​​​

This content was originally published here.