There was a fair amount of hooting and hollering Tuesday night at the mayoral campaign parties of Steve Bach and Richard Skorman.
But considering the buildup in the first race for "strong mayor," the events of the night were unusually subdued. Most political types were expecting that Skorman, the leading moderate candidate, would outpoll his opponents. He did, with 36 percent.
But he didn't have much of a lead. The more conservative Bach took an unexpectedly strong 33.4 percent despite challenges from other candidates, many of whom were believed to be at least potentially viable. And he performed well despite recently publicized accusations that he physically abused his first wife in the 1960s. Bach denies the allegations.
"This is a tremendous victory, one that is very exhilarating," Bach told the crowd at his party at BJ's Brewhouse.
Bach's main challenger for the conservative crown was Brian Bahr, owner of Challenger Homes. Bahr ran an aggressive, well-funded campaign that included clever TV ads and much radio time. His family obligations did take him out of town in the crucial final days before the election, but that hardly explains the mere 15 percent of the vote he captured.
"We ran a great race and we came up a bit short," Bahr's campaign manager, Kyle Fisk, said on election night. "You don't know what the results are going to be until you count up the vote, and Steve Bach and his campaign did a good job locking up the endorsements."
Bach's other challengers fared even worse. Tom Gallagher, a popular, term-limited City Councilor, got just 5 percent. Buddy Gilmore, a defense contractor who seemed capable of resonating with military voters, earned less than 4 percent.
Skorman's only real competition for the moderate vote was Dave Munger. But Skorman, a former Councilman, had far more name recognition and easily outshone and out-fundraised Munger. While Munger brought in $125,292, Skorman shoveled in $245,938. Munger received 4 percent of the vote.
Bach and Skorman now have a bigger and badder battle.
Ballots for the runoff could go out as early as April 22. Election day is May 17. In short, these two mayoral candidates are facing a hard and fast election. As Bach told his supporters, "Now the real work begins."
Indeed. For Skorman, a small businessman, the real challenge will be bringing in new voters and trying to siphon off some Bach voters. Bach, as the more conservative candidate, could take most of Bahr's voters, plus Gilmore and Gallagher's. If he manages that feat, Bach wins.
Skorman is savvy to this, noting from his party at Stargazers Theatre & Event Center that Bach is "more mainstream, more connected" than Bahr ever was.
Bach, meanwhile, has his own headache to deal with. The allegations involving spousal abuse surfaced at a time when many voters already had turned in their ballots for this election, meaning it's still unclear if the situation and any further revelations might impact his performance in the runoff.
"That [issue] comes from a marriage that ended sadly, but amicably, 42 years ago," Bach said. "There were never any allegations then or since then, and coming five days before the election is very disturbing as to whether it's politically motivated."
Bach's best ally in his fight to defuse the situation is undoubtedly his current wife, Suzi.
"Not only have we been married 27 years," she said, "we've worked together that entire time. I know his character."
Both candidates have their own strategies for the runoff campaign.
For Bach, that involves pushing the "no raising taxes" line, as well as emphasizing his business experience as a commercial real estate brokerage adviser and the know-how he picked up as a past chair of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp.
Bach will also distinguish himself from Skorman by touting his inexperience in government.
"I have never run for elected office before, and I think that's a positive," Bach said. "I am not a politician."
Skorman, meanwhile, will emphasize his time as a City Councilor and vice mayor as proof that he knows how to do the job. He says he wants to be seen as the candidate with fresh ideas, rather than "the old guard," and he plans to work to mobilize more voters, particularly the minority community, and groups that feel the development and real estate community wields too much power in Colorado Springs.
"We're gonna hit the ground running tomorrow," Skorman said on election night. "It's going to be intense; people are going to have to start voting in three weeks."
City election results
Richard Skorman* 31,866
Steve Bach* 29,747
Brian Bahr 13,569
Tom Gallagher 4,701
Dave Munger 3,953
Buddy Gilmore 3,579
Kenneth Paul Duncan 971
Mitch Christiansen 514
Jan Martin 44,859
Merv Bennett 33,994
Val Snider 33,815
Brandy Williams 33,418
Tim Leigh 29,358
Ed Bircham 27,760
Bill Murray 25,808
Sean Paige 25,769
Douglas Bruce 24,414
Helen Collins 22,767
Tony Exum 22,632
Gretchen Kasameyer 22,427
Richard Bruce 22,615
Tony Carpenter 12,887
Dawn Lloyd 10,627
Dan "R12" Reifschneider 10,224
DISTRICT 2 COUNCIL
Angela Dougan 8,141
Mike Terry 5,521
Larry Bagley 4,184
David Jensen 1,940
DISTRICT 3 COUNCIL
Lisa Czelatdko 10,140
Mike Merrifield 9,802
1A (SIX AT-LARGE COUNCILORS)
1B (MAYOR AT COUNCIL MEETINGS)