Saira Rao raised more than $250,000 in the first quarter in her upstart bid against eleven-term Democratic incumbent Diana DeGette. The $250,000 accounts for more than half of DeGette's entire 2017 fundraising (about $430,000).
Rao is running against DeGette in Denver's heavily Democratic 1st District, and her first-quarter fiscal numbers suggest that DeGette could be in for a surprise primary challenge this summer.
"Everyone was surprised at Saira's fundraising ability. Everyone but us," says JoyAnn Ruscha, Rao's campaign manager. "People like Saira because she's smart, funny, down to earth, and just a genuinely kind person."
With unaffiliated voters allowed to participate in primaries for the first time this year, money will likely be that much more important to attract the huge number of new voters that could help swing the election. Unaffiliated voters account for roughly 30 percent of the district's electorate, and they could account for as much as 40 to 50 percent of the primary vote this summer, depending on turnout. Rao's campaign is counting on wooing some of those voters, particularly women.
"This is a campaign that's powered by women," Ruscha says. "It's staffed by women — you never see that in a campaign. Our volunteer base and donor base are predominantly women."
Rao is not accepting political action committee financing, and self-contributions did not factor into her first-quarter donations, according to her campaign. The 43-year-old attorney and entrepreneur jumped into the race after feeling shunned by the Democratic Party establishment; she penned a viral Huff Post op-ed last December titled "I'm A Brown Woman Who's Breaking Up With the Democratic Party."
PACs accounted for slightly more than half of DeGette's total 2017 contributions, or around 53 percent, according to campaign finance tracking site opensecrets.org.
Winning against DeGette, who won re-election in 2016 by a forty-point margin (and the Democratic primary earlier that year by more than seventy points), is certainly an uphill battle, but Rao is in a good position financially. She will qualify for the June ballot through petition, according to her campaign.
Republicans Casper Stockham, the 2016 GOP nominee, along with John Field, have also filed to run in this race, along with libertarian Anthony Doane and unaffiliated Paul Daly. Primaries are June 26, and the general election is November 6. Two other Democrats, Michelle Hudson Hale and David Sedbrook, are also in the Democratic primary field.
The district has a Cook Political Report partisan rating of +21 in the Democrats' favor. That, coupled with the national environment expected to heavily favor Democrats this fall, makes the seat comfortably blue. The winner of the June Democratic primary will be the favorite in November's general election.
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