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Sandoval rising as Democratic challenger to Boebert as Donovan steps back

October 20, 2021, 10:34 am
Sol Sandoval is rising as a potential Democratic challenger to Lauren Boebert.

The race for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District is shaping up to be the most contentious and expensive in the state next year, with a crowded field of Democratic candidates poised with a singular mission of defeating Republican incumbent Rep. Lauren Boebert.

State Sen. Kerry Donovan was a clear frontrunner to win the Democratic primary to challenge Boebert during next year’s general election, with fundraising totals almost on pace with Boebert’s. 

Her campaign reported a total fundraising haul of approximately $1.9 million since the start of the year. That’s almost $1 million less than Boebert, but still noteworthy as a Democratic challenger in a comfortable Republican district where the incumbent is pulling money from national PACs and supporters from out of state.

Donovan, however, suspended campaign fundraising in early October when Colorado’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission approved a map that puts her in the 2nd Congressional District. She wrote in a statement that until the Colorado Supreme Court makes a final decision on that map, she is not raising money. 

“This fight is not over, but I’m once again going to level with you: this new map, if finalized, ignores the will of the voters and makes the district less competitive than it was, and I can’t in good conscience continue to raise money from hardworking Americans for a campaign that lacks, for the moment at least, a clear path forward,” Donovan wrote. 

The court has until Nov. 1 to approve the map or send it back to the commission for revisions.

Following Boebert’s nearly $2.8 million raised to date and Donovan’s $1.9 million, there is a sharp drop-off in the amounts current candidates have raised. Fundraising figures indicated Donovan as a clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, but it seems now that effort is kaput. 

Sol Sandoval is in a distant third place for fundraising, and her campaign operatives believe she has enough time — and a convincing enough message — to win the nomination and compete with Boebert in 2022. 

Sandoval, a political newcomer from Pueblo, raised close to $170,000 from July until the end of September, more than what she brought in during the first two quarters combined. The third-quarter average donation, from roughly 5,700 individual contributions, was about $29, according to her campaign. 

Sandoval momentum

To date, Sandoval’s campaign, with a bit under $50,000 in cash on hand at the start of the fourth quarter, has raised approximately $327,000. That’s about $100,000 more than state Rep. Don Valdez, D-La Jara, the candidate with the next highest cash flow, has raised.

“The real opportunity here is that a year out from the general election, we’re pretty cemented about where our position is in this race. We’re only going up as a campaign,” said Sandoval’s campaign manager Luis Vasquez. 

Party primaries are next June, while the general election is Nov. 8, 2022.

While Sandoval’s momentum is impressive, Vasquez admits that there is a lot of ground to cover, especially for a grassroots campaign for a candidate with little to no name recognition. 

“That’s one of the biggest points right there: We have a lot to make up for. The reality is that we have a big challenge ahead of us,” he said. “What we’ve done the entire time is try to spend our money the best we can, putting that money in the community and making sure it is working best for us.” 

Vasquez said the campaign’s traction is continuing to build in these first few weeks of the fourth quarter. Sandoval is traveling to Washington, D.C., in November. The campaign is revving up the ground game in the 3rd District, building a wider support base that includes Northern Colorado voters and preparing for endorsements from political heavy hitters. It has brought on board Middle Seat — a consulting firm that has worked with progressive candidates like Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — for digital consulting. 

It’s all an effort to lay a foundation for a general election campaign against a controversial incumbent, likely bringing to the race a bright spotlight and a hefty price tag. 

“We have a responsibility, as the Democrat running now to unseat Lauren Boebert and leading in fundraising and other numbers, to do things to bring in more national attention, so that this district is able to get the representation it needs. Especially being an R-plus-9 district, we need to go and defend to the country that this is still winnable,” Vasquez said, referring to the district’s 9% edge for Republicans based on previous elections. 

The Republican advantage in the newly redrawn 3rd District should not count out progressive candidates like Sandoval, according to Laura Chapin, a Democratic consultant who is working on that campaign. 

“We won seats in 2018 that nobody thought we would. You absolutely never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “Putting a smart, hardworking, bilingual Latina running in that district is never a bad thing. I’m a big proponent of Democrats should run good candidates anywhere.”

Though the immediate race is a party primary, the primary messaging for most of the Democratic candidates in the 3rd District is one of defeating Boebert, rather than comparing strengths and weaknesses with one another. 

“Kerry is a good friend and I did see that she stopped her fundraising and also saw that she was drawn out of the district, which is unfortunate,” Valdez said.

Whereas Sandoval increased her fundraising in the third quarter, Valdez experienced the opposite. Following approximately $121,000 in second quarter fundraising, his campaign reported raising only about $42,000 between July and September. His campaign currently has approximately $29,000 in cash on hand. 

“I think it was just here at the end of the summer with a lot of other things happening, those numbers are what came out of the third quarter. We’ve got to work in the fourth quarter and we’ve already established that,” he said. 

It could be an expensive primary process with money split between candidates, but the overall goal for Democrats is singular: Get a candidate from their party elected. 

“Our supporters were always going to support whoever the nominee ends up being,” Vasquez said. “It’s something we’ve all worked on where we’re friends in real life. We’ve always bonded with the other campaigns. The real battle is going to be against Lauren Boebert.”

Boebert did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As for other third-quarter Democratic fundraising in the 3rd District, Debby Burnett reported approximately $100,000, Cole Buerger reported approximately $54,000, Kellie Rhodes reported approximately $3,500, and Root Routledge reported $200. 

Editor’s note: This post first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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