With Ken Salazar out, here’s a look at the 2018 Democratic primary for governor in Colorado


Late Wednesday evening, former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado dropped a bomb on the 2018 governor’s race.

He won’t be running, he wrote in a guest column for The Denver Post, published on the paper’s website after 10 p.m.

“I believe I would have won an election for governor, and that I would have been a successful governor for all the people of Colorado,” he said. “However, my family’s well-being must come first.”

 OK, so who else is running or talking about it?

Salazar’s announcement has likely set off a chain reaction. With Salazar stepping aside, it becomes increasingly likely that Congressman Ed Perlmutter will jump in. And if Perlmutter does announce a run, that means Sen. Mike Merrifield, a progressive Democrat from El Paso County and an early supporter of Bernie Sanders, will not, he told The Independent in February.

Also deciding against a run for governor after mulling it over: state Rep. Joe Salazar, a civil rights attorney in Thornton and one of the earliest and staunchest Sanders’ supporters. Salazar announced earlier this month that he would run for state Attorney General instead.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver, an entrepreneur and former Obama education advisor who was once named one of Time magazine’s “40 Under 40 Political Leaders,” announced his run on Jan. 17 followed by a two-day tour of Colorado. He’s remained busy building name recognition across the state and has upped his social media presence as part of that effort.

In an interview with The Colorado Independent, Johnston said he sees himself as someone who has built bi-partisan coalitions in the legislature to get things done, and someone able to build coalitions among all sides of the Democratic Party. The next candidate for governor in the primary will have to appeal to unaffiliated voters who might be able to participate in the primary for the first time, he said.

“I think the party is going to need someone who is going to inspire enthusiasm from a broad coalition of Coloradans, which would include suburban and Western Slope voters as well as Latinos and African-Americans and true liberals and pragmatists,” he said. “You’re going to need someone who can really build a broad coalition and bring that coalition together into a real movement for action.”

Entrepreneur and Intertech Plastics CEO Noel Ginsburg also filed paperwork to run.

He says has been civically involved for three decades and has run a business for 37 years, which he says gives him a unique perspective.

As a state, “we need fresh ideas that will allow us to increase access to good jobs for good pay,” he has said. “Everyone needs to be lifted up by economic growth. That involves our education system, skills development, and the creation of new pathways and choices for people to enter the middle class and beyond.”

Campaign spokeswoman Erin Silver said in a statement Ginsburg made his announcement so early because Colorado law makes it easier to hold events and fundraise after filing.

“Independents will have a voice in the primary this year and I think we shouldn’t ignore that,” Ginsburg told The Independent. He said he would roll out some policy proposals when he does a formal campaign kickoff.

Cary Kennedy, Colorado’s former state treasurer who recently stepped down as Denver’s CFO and deputy mayor, confirmed that she is also looking at a run.

“I’ve been hearing from a lot of supporters and I am seriously considering running for governor,” she told The Independent on March 23. “I will make a decision soon.” She said she’s proud of the progress Colorado has made and how she has played a part in it over the years. “We need to make sure that we protect our progress and make sure that it reaches everyone,” she said.

And Congressman Jared Polis of Boulder, a deep-pocketed progressive, has said he hasn’t ruled anything out, but wouldn’t be “rushed into a premature decision” by the news of Ken Salazar departing the field.

What’s the strategy of not openly talking about a run yet?

Well, one might be that once you’ve said you’re running, then you have to file campaign paperwork.

The actual language in state law is a little looser:

A person becomes a candidate for election (1) if the person has publicly announced an intention to seek election to public office or retention of a judicial office; and (2) thereafter has received a contribution or made an expenditure in support of the candidacy. (Colo. Const. Art. XXVIII, Sec. 2(2)). A candidate affidavit must be filed within ten days of becoming a candidate. (1-45-110, C.R.S.)

But what is an announcement of an “intention” to run? And is it triggered if someone announces and then takes money, or just announces an intention? What if they announce an intention but then never run?

According to Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels, state guidelines say a public announcement includes, but is not limited to, “making a statement a reasonable person would expect to become public signifying an interest in a public office by means of a speech, advertisement, or other communication reported to or appearing in public media or any place accessible to the public. It also includes a stated intention to explore the possibility of seeking an office and/or the registration of a candidate committee with our office.”

The law requires an announcement and raising or spending of money to trigger the requirement to file, she says, but the Secretary of State’s office often advises candidates to file within 10 days of an announcement.

Perhaps this is why Ginsburg already filed paperwork along with three other Democrats who are less well known.

They are Adam Garrity, Moses Humes, and Michael Schroeder. A number for Garrity listed in his official campaign paperwork did not work. A man who answered a phone number listed in campaign paperwork for Humes said he was not Humes and did not know why reporters had been calling him.

In a phone interview, Schroeder said he is highly educated in fiberglass composites and is currently in Arizona working on a big corporate deal with patents he owns. As governor, he said he wouldn’t want to shut down the pot industry but would crack down on stoned driving. “No one has the money that I have,” he said, adding that he is not a politician and has never been in politics. “I want to end this f–king drug thing and I want to make Colorado the number one tech state in the world,” he said. “So we’re going to put the money where the mouth is and we’re not going to be a bunch of dopers in Colorado.”

What might the Democratic primary look like in two years?

The power dynamics could break down along lines similar to what we saw during the Democratic caucuses in March.

Clinton had the support of the Democratic Party elite in Colorado, from the entire Democratic congressional delegation to the governor and dozens of Democratic lawmakers.

Sanders captivated the party’s grassroots and the thousands of voters who switched their party registration from unaffiliated to Democrat so they could caucus for him. In the lead up to the caucuses, only three Democratic lawmakers stood on the steps of the state Capitol to declare their allegiance to Sanders.

Sanders ended up crushing Clinton by 19 points on caucus night. But some Democrats caution about overestimating the power of the caucuses in Colorado, which represent a sliver of Democratic voters statewide. Hickenlooper himself said as much in the aftermath of Sanders’ victory here. He said those caucus-goers represented a “very, very slim percentage of Democrats … a very slim number of people.”

The history of Democrats coming out of the caucuses for governor and losing the primary is also long, says Rick Ridder, a top Democratic strategist. Research he saw in May of last year, he says, showed that if there had been a been a primary in Colorado, Clinton likely would have won it.

So caucuses might not be reflective of the political environment in Colorado. 

But an open question remains: To what extent does a Trump administration galvanize political activism within the wings of the Democratic Party or among leftist unaffiliated or unregistered potential voters? Some on the left who are looking for solace in a Trump win have turned to the recent writings of the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who argued a Trump presidency would “start a process out of which an authentic Left would emerge.”

So one aspect to look out for will be whether there might be someone in Colorado’s leftist movement outside the mainstream who might emerge and electrify that constituency.

With Trump in the White House, Democratic voters are going to be looking for governors who will stand up to him in the states.

Meanwhile, Sanders did not leave his primary race broke and his political group Our Revolution is reportedly keeping an eye on Colorado. There could be some money and resources there for a potential candidate.

How will the new primary system we just passed affect the 2018 governor’s race?

No one knows! But if the new system is in place by 2018, it will certainly have a big effect.

Because voters approved ballot measure Prop 108 on Nov. 8, Colorado’s next governor’s race will be the first year unaffiliated voters will be allowed to have a say in whom the Democratic Party nominates for governor.

Democrats will still caucus for their candidates at precincts around the state — and unaffiliated voters cannot participate in those — but once candidates land on the primary ballot, either by coming out of caucuses or petitioning on, unaffiliated voters could be allowed to vote.

The caveat here is that there still must be legislative work done to enable the new law, and there also could be a lawsuit challenging it from going to into effect. Another caveat: The Democratic Party will have the option in October 2017 to hold a vote by its leadership to see if they want to select all of their primary candidates by the caucus-assembly process. That would take a vote of three fourths of the party’s executive committee, and would mean they would essentially opt out of Prop 108.

But if Prop 108 does what voters intended, it will mean that in the 2018 governor’s race, mailed ballots will be sent to unaffiliated voters with the names of Democratic and Republican primary candidates. Voters can chose one party or the other to participate in.

One aim of Prop 108 was to water down the voting power of the activist base in each party by broadening the electorate to include more voters in the mix in party primaries. Proponents of the measure saw it as a way to lessen the chances of Colorado nominating extreme candidates on either side.

“This is not your grandfather’s Democratic or Republican primary,” says Curtis Hubbard, a partner at OnSite Public Affairs and the lead consultant to the Let Colorado Vote Campaign. “And candidates are going to have to realize that it will be open to a million-plus unaffiliated voters and they’ll have to figure out ways to communicate and engage that group.”


NOTE: This story, originally posted on Nov. 11, has been updated to reflect the changing field.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified which chamber Mike Johnston represents in the Legislature, and also stated Noel Ginsburg had worked for the Clinton Foundation. A spokeswoman clarified he was a member of the Clinton Foundation’s US Youth Action Network.

Photo by U.S. Department of the Interior via Creative Commons on Flickr. 


  1. Let us be clear. Colorado is a purple state. Independents hold the keys to the kingdom. Joe Salazar and Michael Johnston if nominated will lose. They are both to far to the left. Carey Kennedy is unlikely to win. Having worked for Michael Hancock she will be dismissed as to Denver centric. Ed Permutter, while moderate, has not faced a strong challenger in a long time, and independents and moderates are unlikely to vote for him if a moderate Republican emerges. That leaves Ken Salazar. well respected throughout the state. He has access to the political powers that be a.k.a. Steve Farber and Norm Brownstein. He is the best chance for Democrats to win.

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