Denver mayor’s race results: Mike Johnston likely headed to runoff, Kelly Brough remains in a close second

Brough and Johnston remained in the top two spots as votes continued being counted Wednesday.
6 min. read
Candidate for Denver mayor, Mike Johnston, right embraces supporter Ami Desai of Denver at a watch party on election night, April 4, 2023, at the Maven Hotel.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

Editor's note: This article has been updated with April 5 results.

The latest results in the Denver mayor's race show no candidate getting more than 50% of the vote -- what it would take to win outright.

But money talks. And the two candidates with more money than the other 16 candidates -- $1 million more than all the rest of the candidates combined -- appear to be heading to a run-off, based on the latest numbers.

Those candidates are former State Sen. Mike Johnston, who has already declared victory for the runoff, and former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Head Kelly Brough, whose campaign is optimistic that she will also be in the June 6 runoff.

Johnston has lost a string of recent elections. Yet he consistently earns his reputation as "a fundraising machine" thanks to out-of-state billionaire support. He's in the lead with 24.67% of the counted votes.

Supporters of candidate for Denver mayor, Mike Johnston, including 8-year-old Maddock Lamb, center, and his father David Lamb, not pictured, at a watch party election night, April 4, 2023, at the Maven Hotel.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

Brough, who also served as former Mayor John Hickenlooper's longtime chief of staff and has a strong backing from developers who say knows how to make the city work, is in second place with 21.73% of the counted votes.

Criminal justice reform activist Lisa Calderón, who is the current head of Emerge Colorado, an organization working to get Democratic women elected to office, is in third place with almost 16% of the counted votes.

The sole Republican in the race, Andy Rougeout, is in fourth place with about 12.5% of counted votes. He conceded on Wednesday afternoon.

"I love this city, and I am happy to have had the opportunity to bring the issues of crime, homelessness and the cost of housing to the forefront in this race," Rougeot wrote on Twitter. "As the race moves to a runoff, I hope the two remaining candidates will uphold their promise to reduce crime and homelessness across our city and to make it a safer city for everyone that lives here."

State Rep. Leslie Herod, a Democratic Party favorite with a long history advancing criminal justice reforms and the third place in fundraising, is in fifth place with just under 9.76% of the vote.

Debbie Ortega, who sat on City Council for nearly 28 years, has a mere 4.6% of the vote.

Progressive candidate Ean Thomas Tafoya, who received nearly 1.4% of the vote, gently conceded on Wednesday.

"Thank you to all those who worked on my campaign!" he wrote on Twitter. "We couldn't fight for the people & the planet without you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for all you did. Our advocacy continues."

More results are expected Wednesday at 5 p.m.

How the candidates' camps reacted to the results the night of the election:

"Denver chose optimism and hope and change tonight," Johnston said in his victory speech Tuesday night. "Denver declared that they believe in bold ideas with real, concrete plans to actually accomplish those bold ideas. And tonight the work begins."

"Tonight, we were blessed to have an incredible field of candidates in this race," he added. "Not just an incredible group of people, but an incredible group of ideas. One of the things I was humbled by was how much I learned from them, how I was inspired by them, and how I believe that we can take all the good ideas out of this campaign and carry them forward."

At Brough's election watch party, her campaign manager Sheila MacDonald said she's optimistic that her candidate's numbers will hold, but she's also concerned.

Candidate for Denver mayor, Kelly Brough, at right, speaks with a supporter on election night, April 4, 2023, at ReelWorks.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

"She's the only one in the top five that's not been in office or has never run for office," MacDonald said. "And so I think voters that have voted, recognize her authenticity and her expertise in the city."

"I would say these last few months have been just awesome, with voters understanding their issues, talking about how together we could address them," Brough said.

Hashim Coates, who works on Brough's campaign, said he was "feeling great about tonight" and that the early result was "the hard work of a lot of people turning in, believing in the most experienced candidate running for Denver mayor."

He continued by saying that "People are knowing that now is the time for Denver to have a woman mayor."

What to know about the mayor's race.

This race for mayor has been the most crowded in at least the past four decades of Denver history. At its peak, there were more than two dozen declared candidates. Then, 17 made the ballot, and there are multiple write-in candidates as well. Just one candidate, Tattered Cover owner Kwame Spearman, has withdrawn; he put his support behind Brough.

There have been multiple candidates who have experienced homelessness. One former gang member. And even the rare Denver Republican.

The candidates generally share the same understanding of the big issues Denverites have on their minds: public safety, affordability and homelessness.

But mayoral hopefuls have expressed radically different ways of addressing them.

Candidates have clashed over whether market-based or public solutions are the best fix for the homelessness and housing crises; whether the city needs more law-enforcement officers, whether the urban camping ban should remain in place; and whether people experiencing mental health and addiction issues should be involuntarily committed.

Donors have spent wildly on the race -- and so have taxpayers.

More than 22,500 contributors have given over $7 million to candidates in the race. Of that, nearly $3.5 million came from individuals and a little more came from organizations.

Over $3.5 million in taxpayer dollars was spent on this mayoral election as part of the Fair Elections Fund -- a nine-to-one-dollar taxpayer match for many contributions.

The fund was created to level the playing field. But with billionaire-backed independent expenditure committees bringing millions in dark money into the race, voters will have to evaluate just how fair this new taxpayer-funded system is.

The independent expenditure committee backing Johnston received the most money in the election -- most from out-of-state billionaires. Kelly Brough, who came in second place in the fundraising race, received the most support from developers.

This election has been marked with low voter turnout. As usual, voters 65 and older are disproportionately voting.

Young people have been staying away from the ballot boxes.

Denverites have offered a variety of reasons they haven't voted. Some have cited "choice paralysis." Others have told us the candidates just aren't good enough.

So when will we know the results?

Results won't be officially certified until April 20. This election, 175,000 ballots were turned in, and roughly 53,000 have yet to be counted.

The next results will be announced at 5 p.m. on April 5. This story will be updated as results come in.

This article has been updated with the 2:30 p.m. April 5 numbers. 

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