I’m sure the title “Why Karen Benker should lose” was instantly assumed to be some kind of political philosophy or opinionated piece, but that’s not really the intent. This is all about the numbers.
Vote breakdown, by the numbers
First, a little history. Karen Benker (pictured at left) was appointed (selected, not elected) to City Council in early 2005 due to a vacancy in the Ward 2 seat. She ran for retention of that seat in November 2005 and won. But the numbers are interesting: She only got 2,355 votes (or 37.1% of the vote) and only beat Alex Sammoury by 278 votes. In 2007 she ran for Mayor, and in Ward 2, her ward, she only got 2,942 votes and lost citywide to Roger Lange by 7%. Some people chose to vote for someone who pulled out of the race (Doug Brown) instead of her. Total votes over two elections in her home ward 5,297 – her reputation has only declined since that time.
For reference, her opponent Katie Witt (pictured at right) ran for Colorado State Senate in November 2008 and was clearly identified on the ballot as Republican. Even in an admittedly terrible year for Republicans, she received 6,105 votes in Ward 2. This was less than a year ago, Karen Benkers last race was 2 years ago. The 6,105 people who voted for Katie Witt knew then and can assume now what her political affiliation is, and there’s little reason to believe they would change their vote for her in a larger statewide race now that she’s running for a municipal seat. These people may have donated money, put up yard signs, and obviously marked their ballot for Katie Witt – I see no good reason why a large percentage of them wouldn’t do the same again this year.
The money, by the numbers
In any normal year, a city council candidate raising the kind of money Karen Benker raised in the first reporting period would be impressive. That number was $6,885.37 in contributions and in-kind contributions spread over 69 people (70 counting her own $777.65 contribution).
But this isn’t a normal year. Her opponent Katie Witt more than doubled Ms. Benkers fundraising by collecting a whopping $14,628.81 in contributions and in-kind contributions, which was by far the most raised by any of the ten candidates running for city council. These contributions were made by 112 individuals (add to that those that had their spouses listed) and 7 organizations/companies, which are nothing more than groups of people pooling their resources together.
Of even greater importance is what’s left in their accounts for their campaigns to work with. This shows the managerial and money management skills of the candidates. After the first reporting period, Karen Benker had $1,879.59 of funds on hand. Katie Witt had $7,187.77, which is more than the entire amount Karen Benker has raised to date ($6,885.37)! In the election before the election – the money race – Katie Witt has doubled up on Karen Benker on contributions and tripled up on remaining funds on hand.
Money doesn’t always equal votes come Election Day. But the people who do contribute have a vested interest in their candidate, and are usually motivated to get the word out to have their investment pay off. If the larger contribution amount was just due to a few big donors, that would be one thing. But the vast majority of Katie Witt’s donors were small amounts, and the number of donors was at a rate of 1.6-to-1 of Karen Benkers.
You’ll also notice on Karen Benker’s report a lot of the same names, or last names, spread around in the money and in-kind contribution sheets. There is some creative math to keep some donors just barely under or at the contribution limit, with 94 cents here, 6 cents there. Her report tells me that she just doesn’t have widespread, grass roots support – pretty much the same cast of characters you’d expect to see – and/or their family members.
Money has a way of creating momentum – everybody wants to back a winner and jump on the bandwagon. Who wants to throw away good money after bad, or after a losing effort? Money also has a way of compounding momentum with the ability to send out more mailers, more phone calls, more advertising and signs – and more volunteers who want to get in on the action. This is politics at its best as these people are not likely to go away after the election and a fair percentage will remain engaged.
Unless there’s cheating involved. I’ll cover this and the amount of ballots that were mailed out in an upcoming piece.
(UPDATE) The 10/20/09 reports are out and the financial trends continue to go well for Ms. Witt, and poorly for Ms. Benker. In a week, Ms. Benker raised $695 – $250 of which was from the Fraternal Order of Police, and the rest divided up amongst 6 individual donors. Ms. Witt raised $1,107 – $80 were from 2 companies, the remaining $1,027 from 19 individual donors. Total donors are roughly 76 for Benker, 138 for Witt, which improves the ratio to 1.8-1 for Witt.
Of greater importance was the available funds on hand for the last two weeks of the campaign. Ms. Benker had $484 left. Ms. Witt had $5,837 left. Where before Ms. Witt had a 3-1 advantage in funds on hand, it is now 12-1. If you get any mailers or robocalls from Ms. Benker, be suspicious. These things cost money, usually more than $484.
Like I said in a Times-Call comment “No wonder Benker is lashing out in all directions, including wasting the Election Committee’s time and insulting citizens. She’s not quite the budgetary wizard she paints herself to be, as these numbers clearly show. It appears no one wants to give her any money, comparatively speaking. Why throw good money after bad? While contribution differences don’t always equal election results – who’s shoes would you rather be in right now?”