As the mayoral race heats up in Colorado Springs, challengers are falling into three categories: those with money, those with experience, and those with little chance of winning.
As of this writing, official candidates include: Steve Bach, Brian Bahr, Kenneth Paul Duncan, Buddy Gilmore, Phil McDonald, Dave Munger, Kelley Pero-Luckhurst and Richard Skorman.
Real estate man Mitch Christiansen is unofficially in the race. City Councilman Tom Gallagher has said he plans to announce a run within the next couple weeks. Martin Belknap and Tim Leigh have officially withdrawn.
Of all active or prospective candidates, Bach, Bahr and Gilmore have money they don't mind spending. Skorman, Gallagher and Munger are counting on name recognition. The rest, well ... they still have until March 11, when mail ballots start going out, to distinguish themselves. At this point, it seems the election will largely be decided by what often sways voters: a long-familiar name, or an aggressive (and likely expensive) advertising campaign.
"The oldest rule in political science," notes Colorado College professor Bob Loevy, "[is that] the people most likely to get elected to public office are ones who have been elected to public office before."
Bach and Bahr have built strong connections in real estate and development. Gilmore has business and personal ties to the military and other small-business owners. Munger has been more visible publicly in his role as president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations.
But being well-known in small circles does little to win an election, Loevy says, unless one small circle gives you a lot of money.
"There's nothing like having had your name on the ballot before and having been in office," Loevy says.
At the same time, he adds, there's a chance that lots of advertising could essentially wind up "pricing out" more experienced candidates.
Financial disparities are already apparent, based on the latest campaign finance reports. Of the recognizable candidates, Gallagher has not yet raised any money, Munger has $19,485, Skorman has $21,003 (plus $5,000 he loaned himself), Gilmore has $249.90 (plus $110,000 he loaned himself), and Bahr has $27,120 (plus $100,000 he loaned himself).
But money can't buy everything.
On Dec. 16, more than 61 percent of 455 Gazette readers (known for being conservative) who participated in an online poll said they'd vote for the relatively liberal Skorman if the election were that day. Skorman hasn't injected big bucks into his campaign and says he has no plans to. Instead he'll rely on small donations and a network of more than 400 volunteers.
"My strategy is really a grassroots campaign," he says.
Gallagher is looking toward a similar strategy — he doesn't expect to raise more than $50,000, and won't be funding his own campaign.
"I look at it [that] in '03, I spent the least of anybody and I got the most votes [for Council]," he says. "So I think it's how you spend the money."
Gilmore, who's loaned his campaign the largest amounts of cash, surprisingly echoes those sentiments. Realistically, he says, he knows his campaign will have to spend more money than some others, just to get his name out there. But he's hoping to recover his loan in small campaign contributions.
"I really don't want this election to be about money," Gilmore says. "I don't want this to be about candidates who can reach into deep pockets and buy elections."
But some aren't sure that money or influence has that had much of an effect on voter psyche so far.
"I think we've got a lot of candidates in the race," El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark says, adding, "I think people are just confused."