Apr 4, 2023 - Politics

Mike Johnston, Kelly Brough advance to runoff in Denver mayor's race

Data: Denver Elections Division; Chart: Alayna Alvarez/Axios

Denver mayoral candidates Mike Johnston and Kelly Brough will advance to a runoff election in June.

Driving the news: The scrambled race of 16 candidates definitively narrowed to two contenders Thursday, according to unofficial results from the Denver Elections Division.

  • As of 2pm Thursday, Johnston had earned 24.5% of the vote, while Brough had raked in 20%.

Why it matters: One of the them will serve as the city's first new mayor in 12 years and take over for Mayor Michael Hancock at a difficult moment in the city as crime, homelessness and affordability challenge its image.

By the numbers: Other candidates landing near the top Thursday included: Lisa Calderón (18.2%), Andy Rougeot (11.6%) and Leslie Herod (10.7%).

The big picture: The city's major challenges took center stage during this year's election, and split the candidates who offered competing visions for how to address them.

About Johnston: The former state senator who lost a bid for governor in 2018, raised the most money and received the most outside help. The super PAC Advancing Denver spent more than $2.2 million on his campaign.

About Brough: The once head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, pledged to crack down on crime and arrest unhoused people living on city streets.

  • She drew the bulk of her support from business leaders and local real estate interests pumped more than $470,000 into a super PAC to boost her chances.

Between the lines: Early turnout lagged behind prior municipal elections, and the large field of candidates — with none emerging as a strong contender — left many voters overwhelmed and making last-minute decisions.

  • Krista Pass, a 31-year-old marketing director, told Axios she struggled to make a decision until late Tuesday because many of the candidates shared similar visions for the future. Ultimately, she chose Brough, saying she felt had the experience and provided enough specifics to deliver on the job.
  • Joe Furman, a 31-year-old consultant, said he voted for Johnston because of his clear plan, with Brough being his second choice. He added that, in the wake of this election, he now sees ranked choice voting as an appealing option.

Between the lines: The voter-approved Fair Elections Fund — an $8 million public campaign financing mechanism that debuted this election — helped keep lesser-known candidates afloat but not competitive in the race.

What's next: The runoff is June 6 and expected to grow even more competitive — and expensive — in the coming weeks.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with details throughout.


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