John Walsh wins the Democratic nomination for Denver District Attorney

Leora Joseph and John Walsh face off in the race for the 2nd Judicial District.
4 min. read
Denver District Attorney candidate John Walsh yuks it up at the bar during his Election Night watch party at The Bar At Plaza 38. June 25, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

John Walsh, the former U.S. Attorney for Colorado who had the edge in money and endorsements, won the Democratic primary for District Attorney of Denver.

Walsh beat Leora Joseph, a longtime prosecutor in Boston and Arapahoe County. Joseph conceded the race shortly before 9 p.m. on Election Night.

Walsh led the race with 58 percent of the vote to Joseph's 42 percent.

Walsh is likely to become the next District Attorney in November, as there is no Republican candidate and time is running short for an unaffiliated candidate to submit enough petition signatures to appear on the general election ballot.

“We need a DA who is going to bring a firm, fair, and energetic approach to enforcing the law, but also actively partnering with the entire community,” said Walsh at his campaign watch party at Bar 38 in northwest Denver, flanked by outgoing District Attorney Beth McCann and Mayor Mike Johnston. “That’s the kind of campaign we ran, that is the kind of DA that I will be, a DA for the people of the city, a DA who listens to the people of the city.”

In a text to Denverite, Joseph said: "I congratulate John Walsh on his victory in the District Attorney’s race. As a Denverite, I’m rooting for his success in office. I know he will lead with integrity. I am so grateful for all the support and I’m inspired by the people of Denver."

Walsh ran with a particular emphasis on bringing down violent crime, which has remained well above pre-pandemic levels.

He said he would aggressively prosecute drug dealer and strengthen treatment pathways for users. Those are all ideas that, to some degree, are already happening in Denver’s DA office.

The top prosecutor job in Denver opened up when incumbent DA Beth McCann declined to run for a third term. McCann is retiring and endorsed Walsh. 

In his victory speech, Walsh said that he met so many people who work in the DA’s office through the course of the campaign.

“It will be the honor of my life to work with you all,” Walsh said. “I am so looking forward to getting into that position, and to really have an opportunity to see what you all are doing and can do in the future to make this city as safe, vibrant and just city that we all have imagined and that we’re about to make happen.”

What does the district attorney do?

District attorneys hold extraordinary power over the administration of justice, deciding which defendants go to trial, get plea deals, or avoid charges after incidents. The Denver DA’s office is one of the largest law firms in the state, with 85 attorneys prosecuting 13,000 cases a year. 

And the next DA will have no shortage of challenges facing Denver.

Pandemic era violent crime has declined in Denver more slowly than other U.S. cities.

The number of violent crimes (aggravated assaults, murders, sex assaults and robberies) is down 3 percent so far this year compared to 2023, but up 30 percent over 2019 levels, according to data from the Denver Police Department.

Denver is second only to Pueblo for large county drug deaths in Colorado. And Denver has, by far, the highest fatal drug overdose rate in the metro area. According to data from the state, Denver’s overdose rate of 35 deaths per 100,000 people from 2016 to 2022 is more than double some surrounding counties.

Fundraising in the Denver district attorney's race

Walsh amassed a sizable fundraising advantage, despite having entered the DA’s race months after Joseph. Walsh reported $441,551 in contributions compared to Joseph’s $324,123.

But Joseph remained competitive through super PAC spending. The PAC supporting her — Future Denver, funded in part by her family on the East Coast — raised more than $200,000, a more than 2:1 advantage over a PAC supporting Walsh.

Committee for a Safer, Stronger Denver, the PAC for Walsh, received a large contribution from personal injury attorney Frank Azar’s firm.

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