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How the Underdog Defeated the Favorite, Again

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Chris Romer, left, and Michael Hancock, right, during CBS4's Mayoral Debate in May. (credit: CBS)

Chris Romer, left, and Michael Hancock, right, during CBS4’s Mayoral Debate in May. (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti
When Federico Pena came from behind to beat favorite Bill McNichols, it was an upset. When it happened again when Wellington Webb overcame Norm Early’s advantage, it was a coincidence. When John Hickenlooper went from 1.8% in an early poll to the Mayor’s office, it became a trend.

Now, with Michael Hancock defeating Chris Romer, the underdog winning the race for Denver’s mayor has officially become a tradition.

Denver’s Mayoral underdog tradition is well known at this point. So the question we should ask ourselves is how the candidate with the lead in the general election, the biggest endorsements and the most money somehow lost this race?

Let’s take it one layer at a time.

Chris Romer won the general election in a race of nine official candidates. He didn’t win by a significant margin, but frankly a win is a win when you have eight opponents. How did Romer lose so much momentum?

michael hancock interview How the Underdog Defeated the Favorite, Again

CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd interviews Michael Hancock on Election Night. (credit: CBS)

I believe the answer to this was apparent just a few days into the runoff election. Chris Romer’s campaign completely abandoned the playbook that got them to the initial win. The cupcake truck went away and pay raises ruled the airwaves. The strategy may have been more effective if he had stopped after a day or two of hammering Hancock on the issue. But Romer didn’t stop there and his positive cupcakes, and bright idea-based ads of March and April were expelled from the campaign, as were his chances of winning.

Chris Romer also won the biggest endorsements of the runoff election, securing the endorsement from the candidate who took third place in the general election. The endorsement from James Mejia was supposed to bring the Hispanic community to Chris Romer, especially since Mejia brought former Mayor Federico Pena with him to Romer.

However, the story went from Mejia backing Romer to how the endorsement changed the campaign. From modified yard signs to flip flopping on the Manager of Safety issue, the Mejia endorsement quickly turned from an asset into a distraction. And in the end, Mejia helped prove a concept that should be crystal clear at this point, the Hispanic community does not vote as one block and their political opinions are as diverse as any other group.

Finally, Chris Romer held the financial advantage in the mayoral race from the minute that he entered it, and yet somehow wasn’t able to deliver a win. That early advantage may have actually hurt him.

An early lead in fundraising seemingly allowed the Romer campaign to get distracted into early opponent research and may have lulled the campaign into taking the lead for granted. Michael Hancock was never far behind in fundraising, but since he never took a major lead, his campaign seemed to always be working and driving, never allowing themselves to take the foot off the pedal, so to speak. Romer put it in neutral way too early.

Maybe the underdog tradition in Denver’s mayoral victories is more about the fight and the effort an underdog brings to a race, and the temptations that lure the favorites into making critical errors. Whatever the reason behind the new tradition, I can guarantee you what the theme of the next non-incumbent Denver mayoral race will be, “I’m the underdog!!”

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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