As GOP Robinson smacks rival Stapleton over alleged campaign tactics, Sec of State says it’s getting calls

Establishment favorite Walker Stapleton is taking direct fire from investment banker Doug Robinson on the GOP side of the governor’s race for the first time. And it’s not about policy, it’s about petitions.

Specifically, Robinson has pounced on a TV news report that relied on a Robinson campaign vendor as its source and questioned whether dubious characters are or were involved in helping Stapleton, the GOP state treasurer, try to get on the ballot in his quest for the GOP nomination for governor.

Denver7 Report: Secret recording prompts concerns about illegally gathered campaign signatures in Colorado

In Colorado, candidates for governor can get on the ballot if they collect 1,500 valid signatures from Republican voters in each of the state’s seven congressional districts. Stapleton, Robinson, and another Republican, Victor Mitchell, are currently waiting to hear from the Secretary of State’s Office about whether they have collected enough valid signatures to make the June 26 primary ballot.

Campaigns often hire companies who specialize in gathering signatures. In 2016, a scandal erupted in the multi-candidate Republican U.S. Senate primary when media and investigators uncovered fraud in the petition-gathering process. The scandal led to stricter scrutiny on petitions this year.

Denver7’s new report cites an alleged signature gatherer in a recorded phone call talking to a Robinson petition vendor.

From the report:

“Most of my people can’t even register to vote because they’re all felons. You know, most of them,” the man, who identified himself as “Daniel Velasquez,” said in the call, which Denver7 Investigates reviewed. “That’s just me being honest with you. If you want to work with me, you’re going to get those [signature] numbers, you’re going to work with a whole bunch of rowdy individuals. You know, a whole bunch of rowdy individuals from the hood.” …

Velasquez said in the call he’s from Florida, but also said he’s a Colorado resident and registered Republican. He also said he was collecting signatures for, at the very least, the Walker Stapleton gubernatorial campaign in Pueblo. However, Colorado voter data does not show any Daniel Velasquez registered as a Republican in Colorado.

Stapleton’s campaign says they have no record of anyone with that name doing work for the campaign and they’re looking into the matter. And a spokesman for Stapleton pointed out the source for the story came from someone working with Robinson’s campaign. The Secretay of State’s Office told the station, “We don’t have any circulator by that name and we’ve checked the signatures that have been turned in.”

In an uncharacteristic move for Robinson, he went on the attack Wednesday. The story, he said in a statement, “shows that Stapleton’s signatures were gathered illegally, with total disregard and disrespect for state law,” a serious charge and one not backed up by the Secretary of State’s Office. Robinson called on that office to investigate, saying, “Colorado voters should be able to have full faith in their election process from start to finish, and the Stapleton campaign has undermined that trust with their underhanded tactics and lazy behavior.”

The Secretary of State’s Office did an investigation, says spokeswoman Lynn Bartels. “At this point, we don’t have enough evidence to proceed and we have never said that Stapleton is doing anything illegal,” she says.

Meanwhile, Bartels says a robocall is making the rounds on phones in Colorado this morning telling recipients to call the Secretary of State’s office and tell them not to accept illegal petitions. “So far these calls are coming to my phone number,” Bartels says. (A Robinson spokeswoman says the campaign is not involved and she hadn’t heard about the calls, as did Grant Whiteside who runs a Super PAC-style group that is supporting Robinson.)

With little ideological differences between these two Republican candidates, Robinson is making an issue out of Stapleton’s alleged campaign tactics rather than policy positions. “Walker’s failings have always been in his execution, and this is part of a trend,” said Robinson’s spokeswoman Brett Maney who questioned how often the state treasurer shows up for work and noted he missed half of the board meetings of the state’s pension fund some years.

Stapleton’s campaign manager, Micheal Fortney, responded by saying issues Robinson is raising over the petition drive makes it sound like his campaign is “flailing.”

A recent poll by the Republican firm Magellan Strategies found Stapleton leading the GOP field with 26 percent support. Robinson had 8 percent. Stapleton has raised the most money on the GOP side of the primary so far, hauling in $750,000 in the last quarter to Robinson’s $78,000. Both are benefiting from Super PAC-style groups that support them.

At least one progressive activist is taking pleasure in this new Republican-on-Republican spat. “Delightful,” said Ian Silverii, director of ProgressNow, on Twitter. “Mitt Romney’s Nephew VS. George W. Bush’s cousin,” a reference to Robinson’s relationship with the former presidential nominee and Stapleton’s familial ties to the ex-president.

Close political watchers are waiting to hear news from the Secretary of State’s Office about which candidates in the GOP primary for governor turned in enough valid signatures. Stapleton has some wiggle room. On Feb. 23, he turned in about 21,000 signatures, which is double what he needed. Democrat Mike Johnston turned in slightly more than Stapleton and learned he got on the ballot— but 44 percent of his signatures were determined invalid. Robinson’s campaign said he turned in about 17,000 signatures.

If campaigns learn they did not make the ballot because of an unsuccessful petition drive, they can still qualify for it by going through the state GOP assembly on April 14 at the University of Colorado in Boulder. To get on the ballot that way, candidates need to earn 30 percent of the vote from the 4,200 Republican delegates.

Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, Donald Trump’s Denver co-chair Steve Barlock, former Parker mayor Greg Lopez, Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter, and Colorado Springs businessman Barry Farah are all rolling the dice at the assembly next month.

Related: Consensus in Colorado’s Trump Country: Candidate who? Gov race still anyone’s game

Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican, said on Saturday he expects the Stapleton campaign should know if the candidate qualified for the ballot this week.

Photo by Neon Tommy for Creative Commons on Flickr.