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Gubernatorial candidates tack toward the middle
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By James Mejía

On November 6th, the first Tuesday in November, Colorado voters will head to the polls to elect the state’s 43rd Governor. Both candidates have selected running mates with local legislative experience; Democratic nominee and current Congressman, Jared Polis has teamed with former State Representative, Dianne Primavera, and Republican nominee and State Treasurer, Walker Stapleton selected State Representative, Lang Sias. Both selections are viewed as non-controversial, focusing even more attention on the candidates themselves.

Polis won the Democratic primary easily, by nearly 20 points over closest challenger, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy. The election solidified a huge momentum swing from the Democratic State Assembly which Kennedy won with over 49 percent of delegates in a 5-way field. Now, as the Democratic nominee, Polis has both Kennedy’s support and much of the coalition that she brought to the race. Those that have swung support toward Polis include the Colorado Education Association who, like other teachers’ organizations, endorsed Kennedy in the primary. Kennedy, along with third and fourth place finishers, former state Senator Mike Johnston and Lieutenant Governor, Donna Lynne respectively, will serve as supporters and surrogates for Polis on the campaign trail. Polis’ big challenge will be to bring disparate coalitions that lined up to support other candidates as he moves to attract moderates and independents to his camp.

Polis will face off against Walker Stapleton, who won the Republican primary by 17 points over businessman and former legislator, Victor Mitchell.

The ease with which Stapleton won the primary belies the difficulty he has faced since. Stapleton has both the blessing and the curse of a history of family politics – his great grandfather, Benjamin was once Denver Mayor and an unabashed member of the Ku Klux Klan. The former airport and now sizable neighborhood development is named after Benjamin Stapleton. Now, in what should be a smooth path back toward centrist politics to attract moderates for the general election, Walker Stapleton is having to answer for his family’s past. Communities of color have been insistent on hearing Stapleton position himself regarding his great grandfather’s KKK membership and racist policies, especially because of Stapleton’s strong support of President Trump.


Labor parties, voters from communities of color, women in swing counties, millennials and independents are all key target demographics that Polis will try to get on board.

Polis has outlined a progressive agenda which includes a restructuring of the state’s energy supply to include and all renewable energy electric grid, a boost to early childhood education to include full day kindergarten and full day preschool, and single-payer health care. He is an early supporter of the cannabis industry and has been a leader on Capitol Hill for allowing banking services for the industry.

Even though these issues might be too progressive for a centrist Colorado electorate up for grabs, they don’t present Polis’ biggest challenge – that comes in the form of opposition from the oil and gas industry. The tussle goes back a few years when as a Congressman, Polis came out in favor of greater restrictions on the industry only to back off at the last minute per Governor Hickenlooper’s request and subsequent mediation between interested parties. Now Polis’ candidacy will appear on the same ballot as initiatives both in favor and opposing oil and gas. Those initiatives have the potential of firing up oil and gas loyalists, the staunchest of opposition to Polis’ candidacy.

Polis will try to move toward moderate and independent Colorado voters by absorbing the support of his former opponents. Donna Lynne will even pinch hit in the always important Club 20 gubernatorial debate on the Western Slope. Her moderate stance on oil and gas and depth of knowledge in health care in a part of the state struggling with health care issues could play well for Polis, though skipping such an important debate has drawn round criticism.

Polis has already begun to consolidate the Democratic base, winning the general election support of labor and education unions that supported Democratic opponents in the primary, including the Colorado Education Association which brings the door-knocking abilities of its 35,000 members. In addition, Polis’ investment of $11 million of his own money in the primary signals that the general election could become a costly personal investment, but one that he is willing to make.

Stapleton came out of the blocks in his Republican primary by claiming to be the first State Treasurer to back Trump and to follow his narrative on immigration. Now, that stance will be difficult to overcome in a general election. Stapleton will need to appear centrist enough to gain the support of suburbanites in swing counties, especially women.

Among his top 8 campaign issues, Stapleton has listed protecting the 2nd Amendment and limiting Sanctuary Cities which should provide fodder for his base while his other five issues have more potential to appeal to moderate voters including education, jobs, and healthcare.

Stapleton has agreed to debate Polis in nine debates throughout the state including one held at the University of Denver by the Denver Post, and La Voz Colorado television partner, Denver 7 News.


Respondents from a June poll taken by a Democratic organization favored Clinton over Trump in 2016 49-41 percent. For November’s Colorado Governor’s race, they favor Polis over Stapleton 46-38 percent with 16 percent still undecided. The same organization, Public Policy Polling, recorded favorable ratings for Polis at 23 percent while Stapleton held a 15 percent favorable rating. Nearly half of respondents in both cases were undecided. Among Latinos, Polis had a decisive favorability edge – 35 percent to 8 percent.

In a poll taken during the primary election by Strategies 360 for a Democratic leaning client, Polis led Stapleton by a margin of 42-37 percent. Most respondents to that poll were either Democrats or lean Democrat when voting.

Minor Parties

Besides the two candidates from the major parties, other candidates will also appear on the ballot – Constitution Party candidate, George Cantrell, Veronique Bellamy from the Green Party, Scott Helker a Libertarian, Bill Hammons from the Unity Party, and perpetual candidate, Paul Fiorino who is running as an Independent.





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