A November poll by the American Politics Research Lab at CU Boulder showed strongly held beliefs by partisans on both sides of the aisle. One quarter of Democrats supported leftist Congressman Jared Polis and one quarter of Republicans favored Tom Tancredo. All other candidates registered in the single digits. The early recognition and support is typically strong for those with the highest name recognition and strongest partisan positions – with Tancredo’s harsh views toward immigration this kind of early support is predictable.
Last month Tancredo dropped out of the Governor’s race leaving it wide open for a much more contested and interesting race. The only two Republicans registering significant support were Walker Stapleton with 8 percent and Cynthia Coffman with 6 percent. Former candidate for U.S. Senate and former Mayor of Parker, Greg Lopez registered 0 percent.
When Tancredo got out of the race, he hinted that the Governor’s seat was not winnable by the Republicans and criticized the presumptive front runner, Walker Stapleton, for being an insider with deep pockets for fund raising.
With connections to the Bush family, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton will have no problem coming up with the campaign funds to be immediately viable. He touts success as only one of two Republican contenders who have won statewide calling himself, “Colorado’s longest serving statewide elected Republican.” In addition, he has already succeeded in beating Cary Kennedy (a leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate) in the 2010 State Treasurer’s race.
However, Stapleton has narrowly won victory to land in his current post as State Treasurer. In his Republican primary against J.J. Ament, Stapleton won by only 1.8 percentage points and defeated Cary Kennedy in the general election by only 1.4 percentage points. His re-election was a bit more comfortable margin of victory with nearly 5 points more than the Democratic challenger. Libertarian David Jurist served as spoiler in that election, winning more than 5 percent of the vote.
The personable Stapleton will be challenged to appear moderate in a purple state and still win the Republican primary. Pushing policies deemed extremely conservative might help win the Republican nomination but could doom his general election prospects against a Democrat.
Stapleton outlines his priorities on his website and on the campaign trail, leading with: limited, more efficient government, and job growth. He says, “As State Treasurer, I fought to stop the largest tax increase in Colorado history...” And, “I led the fight against Colorado having a single payer healthcare system.”
Stapleton is a 4th generation Coloradan and businessman. His great-grandfather, Benjamin Stapleton served as Mayor of Denver for five terms during the 1920s, 30s and 40s. A northeast Denver neighborhood on the land of the former airport is named after Benjamin Stapleton. That name has become controversial given his participation in the Ku Klux Klan at the highest levels. Walker Stapleton is a second cousin to former President George W. Bush.
Stapleton has been using his ties to the Texas-based Bush family to raise money in the southern state. At a Dallas event last week, former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush were headliners.
On February 23, Stapleton submitted signatures to qualify for the November ballot. His Twitter feed showed a photo of a box labeled, “Stapleton for Governor” and his post simply read, “Signatures In.”
Also on his Twitter feed was a Retweet by Stapleton from one of his supporters quoting him at a Republican meeting saying, “I support legal immigration, but I do not support sanctuary cities. As governor I would support Colorado upholding federal law and ending sanctuary city policies. Sanctuary city policies put our citizens at risk”
Stapleton considers Congressman Jared Polis the leading Democratic contender calling his agenda “radical” and tweeting, “We are building the coalition and putting together the resources necessary to defeat Jared Polis in November…”
Coffman is half of a former Colorado Republican power couple; her ex-husband is Congressman Mike Coffman. As one of two Republicans who have been elected statewide, as incumbent Attorney General and with high name recognition, she is considered a top contender. Being the only woman in a crowded field should help her in the primary.
As a graduate of Georgia State Law School, Coffman worked in the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, eventually working as legal counsel for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics before coming to Colorado. She served as legal counsel for Governor Bill Owens and as Deputy in John Suthers’ Attorney General office. In 2014 she was elected Attorney General with the support of Suthers.
When Coffman announced her gubernatorial candidacy, prosecutor George Brauchler promptly dropped out of the Governor’s race and instead took up the fight to replace Coffman in the AG’s seat. The move shows both her credibility and strength as a statewide candidate and the plum post she will vacate.
Coffman has been viewed as the natural balance to a Democratic Governor, sometimes bucking his stance on oil and gas development and regulation. One of her more popular positions as Attorney General came last fall when she joined a group of Attorney Generals from across the country in investigating whether drug companies broke laws in marketing and distributing opioids which has led to the country’s addiction problems.
One month into her campaign, her website shows little policy positioning. Already lagging behind Stapleton for fundraising, the next finance reporting period will be a critical benchmark for her viability.
Greg Lopez, Underdog
Greg Lopez is the only Latino vying for either party’s nomination. As the former regional manager for the Small Business Administration and former Mayor of Parker, he hasn’t gained traction after a failed bid for the U.S. Senate in 2016. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and holds an Associates Degree from New Mexico State University. Lopez is from a family of migrant farmers. He wants to overcome his underdog status to become Colorado’s Governor. “By achieving the goal of leading our great state as Governor, I will also become the first Hispanic-American Republican elected in state history.”
Lopez runs a family bar and restaurant and cites small business development, career and job training as an alternative to college education and government efficiency as his top priorities. Instead of gathering signatures to get on the ballot, Lopez will participate in the caucus process to become a Republican candidate.
The Rest of the Field
East Denver native Steve Barlock promotes his status as a political outsider. He is a real estate broker and chaired Trump’s Denver campaign. From his website, “I will be the only Republican candidate in the current political field who is truly loyal to Donald Trump from the very beginning.” He doubles down on his support of Trump with a Tweet, ““The only thing that could ever pull me away from Donald Trump is if he pulls away from the NRA.” #2ndAmendment.
Lew Gaiter is the only major candidate from either party who is African American. He is a respected Larimer County Commissioner who has championed non-partisan solutions to county problems. With little name recognition, Gaiter has struggled to raise campaign funds to boost visibility. He will require substantial resources to push his candidacy – he received only 1 percent support among Republican primary voters according to last fall’s CU Boulder poll.
Former State Representative, Victor Mitchell represented district 45 in Teller and Douglas Counties. He served only one term from 2006-2008. During his campaign, Mitchell championed school choice and opposition to Referendum C, which eventually passed, allowing the state to keep TABOR surplus. Since then he has led a real estate lending firm, Lead Funding. He has already put $3 million of his own money into the race. Mitchell recently attracted attention by publishing online ads welcoming Amazon if they choose Colorado for a new location but pressuring Governor Hickenlooper to not offer financial incentives. His YouTube advertisement is called, “Support Small Business, Not Bezos.”
Businessman Doug Robinson moved to Colorado after serving a Mormon church mission here. He is a nephew of Mitt Romney. He wants to see more choice in education, better state infrastructure and “pragmatic solutions” for healthcare. He served on Romney’s campaign team in 2012 and helped start SMART Colorado, a non-profit opposing legal cannabis. Robinson is highly critical of Governor Hickenlooper’s culture of spending and Robinson’s top priority is transportation tweeting his top legislative priority, “1. Transportation. We cannot go another session without a clear long-term plan to fund our roads.” Thus far, Robinson has invested nearly a quarter of a million dollars in his own campaign.
Jim Rundberg was a Republican presidential candidate in 2016. On his Twitter feed, he describes himself: “Republican, Pro-Life, Pro-Guns, Military Experience”. A recent tweet read, “Abortion and Homosexuality are evils that feed and strengthen the evil over this country….” Rundberg promotes the Gold Party and promotes the idea of a presidential candidate coming from the party. His Facebook page lists him as a “Former Governor Candidate” and “Independent Presidential Candidate.”