This week, La Voz Colorado television partner, Denver’s 7 held debates for candidates for governor – one for Democratic candidates and the following night, one for Republican candidates. If it wasn’t obvious that education is a leading issue during the recent Democratic gubernatorial debate, it became abundantly clear during the television advertisements afterwards. In three successive commercials, the Colorado teachers’ unions members pushed for Cary Kennedy, naming her as the only gubernatorial candidate that is truly on the side of teachers. The second ad showed another group of teachers stumping for Jared Polis, narrating his support for schools for immigrants and time on the State Board of Education. In the third and final advertisement, Mike Johnston talked about being the only former teacher and principal in the race, giving him a uniquely important perspective on education needs in the state. Notably, Donna Lynne didn’t have any television commercials aired during the break, a reflection of her struggle to raise funds to push out her message.
The dispute around who is best for the state on education is the continuation of a battle for one-upmanship which intensified in early June when a pro-Kennedy Super PAC funded by the Colorado Education Association attacked both Polis and Johnston for supporting anti-teacher policies. At issue was an op-ed in the Rocky Mountain News in 2003 where Polis supported then Attorney General Ken Salazar’s backing of a pilot voucher program for underserved children; Polis called the program “a modest voucher proposal”. In his article, Polis wrote, “Salazar is right – this experiment deserves a fair test, an honest chance. If it succeeds, it will benefit the lives of children and families. If it fails, at least we can bring closure to a toxic debate that has divided us for too long.”
That same ad went after Johnston for authoring Senate Bill 191, legislation that evaluates teacher effectiveness but has recently been condemned for thwarting teacher recruitment and availability even by the most critical of teachers’ unions. Kennedy’s Super PAC message has landed, providing her momentum among education groups but also having to respond to the narrative that she went negative in the campaign and was too tentative and too late in condemning the attack ad from a Super PAC that is separate from her campaign but clearly supportive of her efforts.
Alternate polls show Polis and Kennedy as the frontrunners with Johnston as third in every case and Lynne stuck in single digit support. Notably, both Polis and Kennedy are the only Democratic candidates who have been elected statewide and the two, along with Johnston, have made this primary the most expensive in state history. Johnston has convinced several uber-wealthy to provide millions in his effort while Polis has invested over $11 million from his own bank account to blanket the airwaves with television advertisements.
In a move that could decide the election, the Kennedy campaign has not segmented her message to the Latino community, instead choosing a one-size-fits-all approach. One poll showed her support among Latinos eroding from a high of 25 percent plummeting to only 2 percent in two critical months prior to the primary. Meanwhile, both Johnston and Polis have surged in support from Latinos with targeted messaging including advertisements on Spanish language media. Both candidates speak Spanish.
The winning Democrat is likely to face Republican Walker Stapleton in the November general election. State Treasurer, Stapleton, was expected to be challenged by Attorney General Cynthia Coffman who failed to make the ballot through the Republican caucus process. Now his only legitimate challenge is coming from entrepreneur, Victor Mitchell, who has invested $3 million of his own money in his campaign and was one of the first candidates on either side of the political aisle to air television ads. Businessman Doug Robinson only made the ballot after a court challenge and hasn’t gained traction. Greg Lopez had a surprise showing in the caucus process but has raised very little money to broadcast his message.
Mitchell has proven a more moderate and practical candidate saying he would not send troops to the border to defend against immigrants and has told audiences he did not vote for Trump. Conversely, Stapleton has adopted an unabashed pro-Trump stance, noting he was one of the first state treasurers to support the president and has aired anti-immigrant television ads.
In a rare move, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper endorsed former CU law school dean, Phil Weiser for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General. Not known for endorsing in primaries, and instead working behind the scenes for his favorite candidates, Hickenlooper praised Weiser for his manner of operating in a press release, “At our best, we Coloradans are creative, collaborative and inclusive. We don’t look for leaders who divide; we look for leaders who can bring us together. Phil Weiser is just this sort of leader.”
Hickenlooper and former Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar appear alongside Weiser in a YouTube video uploaded by the Weiser campaign. In that 30 second ad, Salazar and Hickenlooper issue a thinly veiled jab at Democratic frontrunner, Joe Salazar, who far exceeds Weiser in name recognition and polling. In interviews and in his messaging, outgoing State Representative Joe Salazar has poked at Ken Salazar (the two are unrelated) for his work on behalf of the oil and gas industry. Many pundits see Ken Salazar’s support of Weiser along with Hickenlooper’s rare endorsement as support for the energy industry.
Even in a year predicted to be skewed toward Democrats in the Trump era, the winning Democratic candidate will face stout opposition from Republican, George Brauchler. As the elected District Attorney for the 18th judicial district, Brauchler is best known for prosecuting the Aurora theater killer.
The biggest unknown in the midterm election is the number of unaffiliated voters who will vote in primaries. For the first time in state history, independents may vote in either of the major party primaries. In a state divided nearly evenly between Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliated voters, the impact of their votes could skew results dramatically, making polls nearly obsolete.
Latino State Legislators
Of special interest to the Latino community are the eight Latino candidates that face primaries in Colorado. Robert Rodriguez and Julie Gonzales are in tough races for the senate while six others along the Front Range are embattled in House races – those candidates include Rochelle Galindo in Greeley, Terry Martinez in Colorado Springs and Monica Duran in Jefferson County.