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Chris Romer: Could big dog have transformed into underdog to win Denver mayor's race?

Can the big dog ever win a mayoral election in Denver? Since 1983, the victor has always been an underdog, someone who barely registered a blip on the radar five months before the first round of voting.

Chris Romer was definitely the big dog in this mayor's race, and he wound up getting bit. Hard.

When he entered the race in 1983, legislator Federico Peña raised nary an eyebrow; the lineup was already crowded with candidates, including state cabinet member Wellington Webb, Denver DA Dale Tooley and incumbent Bill McNichols. But Pena and Tooley knocked out McNichols in the first round, and then underdog Peña took the bone away from Tooley to get the job that June.

Eight years later, Webb ran again, this time against DA Norm Early, who had all the money and all the attention. But Webb won that one.

Twelve years later, when brewpub owner John Hickenlooper announced in January that he was running for mayor, he was polling at less than 5 percent. Five months later, he was in the runoff against Don Mares, with former frontrunner Ari Zavaras left in the dust. Hickenlooper won, and then won again. Today, Hickenlooper is governor.

Did Chris Romer, son of a former governor, have a chance at becoming mayor of Denver? Yes, if he could have convinced voters that his role as big dog really made him an underdog. But that would have required an entirely different media campaign from the rabid retread he got out of David Axelrod's crew in Chicago.

You could tell things were going south in March, when Hancock was still polling at about 10 percent... and Romer was polling right where he'd started several months earlier. That's why, when we had to provide the answer to "Best Guess for Who Will Be Denver's Next Mayor" six weeks before the first round of voting (it had seemed like such a smart question when we published our Best of Denver 2011 Readers' Poll back in January), we came up with this:

Not Chris Romer

Sixteen months ago, nobody really thought that Denver would be voting for a new mayor in May 2011; John Hickenlooper looked like a lock for a third term. But then Governor Bill Ritter decided not to run again, setting off a game of political dominoes that resulted in Hickenlooper's moving up while a slew of candidates who'd been eyeing City Hall jumped into the mayor's race. Ten made the ballot; former state senator Chris Romer, who's been leading the pack in fundraising, was the first to break into solid double digits on a poll of likely voters. But even with the election only a month off, it's too early to make a solid prediction, except this: Since early front-runners rarely win, Denver's next mayor will not be Chris Romer,

The readers choice? Chris Romer.

I'll be on David Sirota's AM-760 talk show at 7 a.m. today, which will be guest-hosted by Jamie Laurie of the Flobots, to talk about the mayor's race.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Michael Hancock, Denver's new mayor, had a good campaign -- and a lucky office."


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