by Mark Craddock
HUERFANO/LAS ANIMAS — At the most grassroots level of politics, where the foliage can be dense and the weeds nettlesome, it is difficult to gauge how the campaign for a particular local candidate is progressing.
In the world of political polling, the likes of Gallup, Pew, Quinnipiac and Harris spend no time taking the pulse of voters in, say, a local sheriff’s race.
In rural enclaves like ours, polling is what occurs before sun up over a cup of coffee or during lunch at a local diner, and campaigning is often an exercise in pressing the flesh and saying a few words at the proper church and senior-citizen luncheons, holiday parades and county fairs.
So when it comes to the horse-race aspects of local elections, there is no clear metric to gauge who’s leading, who’s trailing off and who’s likely to win or lose by a nose.
One can count yard signs, but it’s still too early to post general-election signs in many jurisdictions.
Or there’s the tried-and-true tactic of eavesdropping on conversations while drinking copious amounts of coffee at a local diner (for a more well-rounded polling effort, insert “beer” and “watering hole” in the preceding sentence as well).
But during the dog days of election-year summer — a month out from the June 28 primary and more than three months before the Nov. 8 general election — about the only reliable hints are campaign-finance reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State.
Because in even the humblest campaign, pressing flesh and kissing babies comes with ancillary expenses.
Huerfano County Treasurer Debra “Debbie” Reynolds (D), Assessor Elisha Meadows (D), and Coroner Vonnie Maier-Valdez are running unopposed. Las Animas County Treasurer Donna J. Leonetti (D), Assessor Jodi M. Amato (R) and Coroner Dominic “Junie” Verquer are also running unopposed in November’s general election.
But, among the competitive races, local candidates have just filed their July 28 reports of contributions and expenditures. Here’s what a deep dive into the secretary of state’s data reveals:
Huerfano County Commissioner — District 3
Republican Karl Sporleder has raised $9,272.87 so far in his campaign ($1,000 of which came from the Huerfano County Republican Party). Sporleder ran unopposed in the primary, but spent $3,102 before the June 28 Republican primary election, as well as $611 in the most recent reporting period. His funds on hand as of the July 28 reporting deadline was $5,579.64. After his initial fundraising, Sporleder took no contributions in the subsequent two reporting cycles.
Running a self-supported campaign, Democrat Della Duran has reported no contributions to date, but reported $4,419 in expenditures.
Huerfano County Sheriff
Incumbent Democrat Bruce Newmann has taken no contributions and reported $476.96 in expenditures, including $44.66 on candy for July 4 parades.
His opponent, Republican Jim Chamberlain brought $822.85 of funds on hand from previous campaigns, and has raised $1,100 ($1,000 of which came from the Huerfano County Republican Party).
So far, he has spent $659.86 and has $1,262.99 on hand as of the July 28 report. Among his expenditures were $104 on vehicle decorations and $288 on candy for the July 4 parades.
Las Animas County Clerk and Recorder
Republican candidate Karrie Apple has raised $5,895 so far and spent $4,134.71, for a fund balance of $1,760.29 as of the July 28 reporting period. Some $3,250 in spending has gone to Lafayette, Colo., based SWS Polifi, LLC, a financial management company specializing in political campaigns.
Her opponent, Democrat Henry “Smokey” Guzzo Jr., appears to be running a leaner, self-funded campaign. He has reported no contributions and expenditures of $918.93.
State Senate District 35
Huerfano and Las Animas counties are both in Senate District 35. It has historically been a southern Colorado district whose boundaries stretched from the Wet Mountains to the west, through the San Luis Valley and across the southern plains to the Kansas border, and as far north as the southern city limits of Pueblo.
The new 2020 map places the senate district firmly east of the Sangre de Cristos and extends it east to the Kansas border and north to Douglas County (excluding the cities of Pueblo and Colorado Springs). It is now a quintessentially rural Eastern Plains district with a significant 44.8% to 16.4% Republican/Democrat split. Unaffiliated voters make up 37.5% of the district.
Because of term limits, there is no incumbent this year, with Democrat Travis Star Nelson and Republican Rodney Pelton vying for the wide-open seat.
As of the most-recent filing reports, Nelson, from Gardner, has received $3,000 in donations and $5,000 in loans (from himself). He has spent $5,559.61 and has a war chest of $2,515 going into the thick of general election campaigning.
Pelton, from Cheyenne Wells, has received $24,030 in contributions and has so far spent $18,376.13, leaving him with a current balance of $5,654.19. Among the contributions, Pelton has donated $4,813 to his own campaign and received $2,675 from Care Small Donor Committee, a Denver-based aggregator that supports Republican candidates.
State House District 47
Huerfano County is split between HD 47 and HD 62, roughly along the Huerfano River. Much like SD 35, it abuts the eastern Front Range and encompasses the eastern plains, but extends north only as far as Crowley and Kiowa Counties (excluding Pueblo). It is a wide-open seat this year, with Democrat Edwin Dean Ormiston of Pritchett squaring off against Republican Ty Winter of Trinidad.
Winter enters the thick of the general election race with a war chest that is orders of magnitude larger than his Democratic rival.
He lists total contributions of $48,236.45; loans of $3,800; non-monetary contributions of $201.55. He has so far spent $23,026.02 with an ending balance of $29,010.43.
Ormiston, a former Baca County commissioner, has received total contributions of $2,400 ($2,000 of which came from the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters Small Donation Fund). He has spent $1,447, for an ending balance of $953.
State House District 62
HD-62 is primarily a San Luis Valley district that extends through northwest Huerfano County, basically north of the Huerfano River and includes a small strip of central Pueblo County. Democrat Matthew Martinez and Republican Carol Riggenbach are vying for the seat being vacated by Don Valdez. Both are from Monte Vista, and both are bringing roughly equal war chests into the general election season.
Martinez has reported total contributions of $4,598.78. Somehow, he has managed to not spend any campaign funds so far, leaving him with an ending balance of $4,598.78 for the Aug. 1 reporting period.
Riggenbach has received $900 in donations and made an $11,000 loan to her campaign. She lists total expenditures at $8,275 for an ending balance of $4,538.37.