After Tuesday’s primaries, only one Republican and one Democrat have been left standing.
In what was supposed to be a big year for women, the two Democrats vying for the state’s highest office - Cary Kennedy and Donna Lynne couldn’t overcome the power of Jared Polis’ incumbency or his checkbook. On the Republican side, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman didn’t even make the ballot.
Democrat Jared Polis entered the contest as the early favorite on the Democratic side, having self-financed victories for the State Board of Education and successive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. This time around, Polis’ investment made this race the most expensive in state history, dumping more than $11 million of his own resources into his bid for Governor.
To their credit, both Cary Kennedy and Mike Johnston kept pace with raising funds and profile during the primary. Kennedy made the deepest inroads early in the race by running a grassroots campaign fueled by teachers riding a national wave of accountability without additional resources and the scourge of one of the lowest levels of funding by a state anywhere in the country. Her bona fides as author of Amendment 23 creating a higher level of school funding, providing a backdrop to make education her signature issue. In the end it wasn’t enough.
Mike Johnston also rode the issue of education in the primary campaign but aligned himself with pro-charter school and teacher accountability advocates. Johnston’s backing of Senate Bill 191 to hold teachers to higher levels of accountability as well as his experience as a teacher and principal buoyed his campaign. Throughout the campaign Johnston suffered from a lack of name recognition while Kennedy cruised through the state caucus process with huge numbers and Polis blanketed the airwaves with his message. Johnston surged toward the end of the campaign earning important Grass Tops (influencers between grassroots and elected officials) endorsements and came closer to Kennedy and Polis than many projected. Given his political ambition revealed during the primary, Johnston is likely to be a candidate for another office in the very near future.
Even with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s backing – yet never outright endorsement – Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne’s campaign never caught fire.
Stapleton Beats Challengers
Name recognition and incumbency as Colorado State Treasurer helped Stapleton’s campaign to become the Republican nominee for Governor.
Stapleton’s Ku Klux Klan great grandfather made news because of his namesake Denver neighborhood’s desire to change their name and leave a racist legacy behind. Stapleton made news not only with his staunch alignment with Trump but also for untrue and misleading messaging in campaign ads. Still, it wasn’t enough to derail his primary bid but will serve as fodder for negative campaigning in the general election.
Former state legislator and businessman Victor Mitchell provided the most serious opposition to Stapleton, with Mitchell calling himself an outsider and presenting himself as a more moderate conservative than the Trump-aligned Stapleton. Mitchell’s deep pockets and $5 million contribution to his campaign helped raise name recognition and his message of reasonable conservatism.
Former Mayor of Parker and SBA Administrator Greg Lopez gained steam on the campaign trail and showed impressively through the Republican caucus process, but never gained enough attention to be a serious threat to the better known and well-financed Mitchell and Stapleton.
Businessman Doug Robinson’s campaign never gained enough traction to break the top two despite receiving attention as a nephew of Mitt Romney.
As newspaper owner Guerin Green posted on Facebook, “Toughest choice on the primary ballot? Weiser v Salazar.” Well into the evening when other races proved decisive, the Democratic AG primary candidates were separated by only a few thousand votes.
The endorsement of former Colorado Attorney General, Ken Salazar and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, allowed former Dean of the CU Law School Phil Weiser to match the name recognition of State Representative, Joe Salazar.
If not for the tough campaign run by the scrappy and underfunded Salazar, Weiser would have been an easy choice for Democrats. Through the entire primary Salazar showed progressive stripes, unwilling to bend to traditional Democratic politics and unfazed by top endorsements of Weiser. Salazar’s campaign slogan, “Can’t Be Bought. Can’t Be Bullied.” proved to be the perfect drumbeat for a Bernie Sanders supporter willing to go around the system to change it. Salazar’s message resounded in a state where Democrats handed Bernie Sanders a huge win in the 2016 Democratic primary.
In a state notorious for splitting statewide tickets between Democrats and Republicans, look for the AGs race to be particularly contentious as the Democratic nominee runs against George Brauchler, a Republican District Attorney known for prosecuting to the fullest extent the law will allow.
Latinos in Competitive Legislative Primaries
The District 4 primary was won decisively by Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez. The seat was previously held by Dan Pabon who was term limited.
Speaker of the House, Crisanta Duran left District 5 in Northwest Denver at the end of this legislative term and endorsed candidate Alex Valdez. Valdez is keeping the seat in Democratic and Latino hands winning with a resounding margin.
Wheat Ridge City Council person Monica Duran is breaking new ground in District 24, winning the Democratic primary in Jefferson County - a region that has never been represented by a Latino.
Latina Kerry Tipper won the Democratic side of District 28 in Lakewood, doubling her opponents votes.
In Greeley, former City Council member and first openly gay city official, Rochelle Galindo, defeated Jim Riesberg in District 50.
Not all Latinos with primaries were successful. School teacher, Terry Martinez lost a tough Democratic primary in District 18 in Colorado Springs.
In the State Senate, Democrat Julie Gonzales handily won her Democratic primary in North and West Denver in District 34, recently vacated by Lucia Guzman.
In the other contested State Senate seat, first time candidate Robert Rodriguez held a very minor lead in District 32 in Southwest and South-Central Denver. The seat was recently held by Senator Irene Aguilar.