Jun 7, 2023 - News

How Mike Johnston won the Denver mayor's race

Mike Johnston at his campaign office in Denver. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Considering his money advantage, Mike Johnston's commanding victory Tuesday night came as no surprise to many, but new figures reveal insights into how he sealed the deal.

Zoom in: Both Johnston and his opponent Kelly Brough had to pick up voters who had gone for other candidates in April or draw new ones out.

  • He gained more than 47,000 additional votes this round compared to April, final unofficial results released Wednesday afternoon show.

The progressive factor: Most neighborhoods where Lisa Calderón — the third-place finisher who was considered the leading leftist in the race — did well in April ultimately swung for Johnston.

  • Progressives were the major X factor in the runoff, with many political pundits predicting their vote would determine the outcome of the election.
  • It appears Calderón's endorsement of Johnston, albeit last-minute and lukewarm, may have inspired them.

North and West sides: Johnston largely swept Denver's north side, which had been split in April among numerous candidates, including Leslie Herod, another one of his endorsers.

  • Many of the more diverse neighborhoods on the city's west side also swung for the former senator, albeit their turnout overall was lower than two months ago.

The intrigue: The neighborhoods Johnston won largely align with what's dubbed Denver's "inverted L," historically underserved areas that loosely trace north of Interstate 70 and west of Interstate 25, where many Black and Latino residents live.

  • Calderón told Axios Denver it was "no coincidence" Johnston swept those areas after they leaned her way in April.
  • "This is the power of coalition building where historically redlined and disinvested communities … can collectively rise up and influence elections," she told us in a statement.

Between the lines: Johnston has been credited for his history of working with communities of color, including his time with Teach for America in Greenville, Miss. — a predominantly Black city.

  • He was also praised during his time as a senator for opening a community office in Northeast Park Hill, when he represented the area that had long been led by Black leaders.
  • Of note: Johnston, who is fluent in Spanish, won support from Federico Peña, Denver's first Latino mayor.

What they're saying: Johnston "has built a lot of solid relationships with folks from all backgrounds across the city, and he knows the value of incorporating that diversity into City Hall," John Ronquillo, a professor with the University of Colorado Denver's School of Public Affairs, recently told the Denver Post.


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