Trail Marker: The week in Colorado’s race for governor

In the past week or so the Republican primary took a remarkable turn with the announcement of a new campaign from Barry Farah, and an uncharacteristic attack by first-time candidate Doug Robinson on perceived establishment front-runner Walker Stapleton.

Last Saturday, The Colorado Independent interviewed 30 Republicans at the El Paso County GOP assembly— one of the most hardcore Republican areas in the state. The bottom line: They barely know who’s running for governor, and it’s anyone’s game for the state assembly. The biggest issues on the minds of delegates are sanctuary cities and immigration.

This Saturday we reported on the Democratic assembly in El Paso County and found voters there split between Cary Kennedy and Jared Polis— and having no clue about Donna Lynne. Here’s a roundup of news from the campaign trail.

Some daylight for the Dems on healthcare

A forum for Democratic candidates in the broad field this week exposed some policy differences— kind of a big deal in a race where there often isn’t much daylight.

Speaking at a business roundtable forum sponsored by The Denver Business Journal and The Colorado Business Roundtable on March 29, Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, Boulder Congressman Jared Polis, ex-State Treasurer Cary Kennedy and former State Sen. Mike Johnston each made their case.

From Ed Sealover of The DBJ:

Until Thursday, the Democratic campaign has been largely disagreement-free on the issues, with the quartet of leading candidates pitching their personal merits to voters, Thursday’s event suggested that the biggest differences between them are ideological. But no topic was as wide-ranging as the discussion over how the next governor help bring down soaring health-care costs for both businesses and individuals.

Here’s the nut, per the DBJ: Polis says as governor he would push for national Medicare-for-all-style coverage. He wouldn’t want something like the Amendment 69 ColoradoCare plan that failed at the ballot in 2016, “but believes a government-run system can force down medical costs.” Lynne “countered that greater enrollment in private insurance plans is key to beginning to bend the cost curve.” Kennedy was the first to say she would allow any Coloradan to buy into the state’s Medicaid program, and Johnston agrees. Kennedy would also allow anyone to buy into the state employee’s health plan; Johnston said he would try to lure healthcare professionals to underserved rural areas with tax breaks.

A Cynthia Coffman and Donna Lynne unity ticket?

Probably not.

But as stories persist about the possibility of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper linking up with Ohio Republican John Kasich for a bipartisan presidential unity ticket in 2020, Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said she once broached a similar state-based idea with Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne in jest.

“I did joke with Donna one time that we should run together,” Coffman told The Colorado Independent following a March 23 candidate forum in Denver. “We could do a lot. We agree on many things.”

Wait, whaaaaat?

“I don’t think at this late date it’s going to happen but I think Colorado is a place where you can do something like that,” Coffman added. She said if elected governor, she would want Lynne involved. “We both, I think, are very complementary of each other in what we’re doing, and we get along well.”  

(Coffman’s new campaign chairman, Roger Hutson, has given the maximum campaign contribution allowed to Lynne’s campaign for governor. He also gave the max to his new boss Coffman, too, of course.)

Speaking of Coffman… the LGBT-friendly Republican said she would repeal a state ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation

According to a recording provided to ColoradoPolitics, Coffman, who has positioned herself as an ally to LGBT causes, told a GOP breakfast crowd in Greeley last week she would repeal a portion of state law that protects sexual orientation and gender identity from discrimination.

Coffman later cleaned up her response through a spokesperson, who gave a statement to ColoradoPolitics that read:

“The General Assembly added sexual orientation as a category protected from discrimination based on a finding of inherent discrimination. If Colorado’s elected representatives determine at a future date that such protection no longer is necessary and remove that language, I would sign the bill,” she said. “I have a long and consistent record of successfully defending the rights of all Coloradans both in and out of the courtroom and that will not change once I’m elected governor.”

Two Republicans I spoke with who do outreach to conservatives about LGBT issues in Colorado said they weren’t entirely sure what that meant and are hoping for more clarity from her on the subject. “She was given an impossible hypothetical bill and she answered with a hypothetical answer,” said Coffman spokesman Roger Hudson (who is not Roger Hutson, campaign chairman). Hudson added that her stance has not changed on LGBT issues and she has a strong record defending the law and supporting LGBT rights.

Coffman is trying to get on the ballot by snagging 30 percent or more of the vote at the April 14 GOP state assembly where 4,200 Republicans will decide whom they like best, and by pitching herself as a candidate who can appeal to unaffiliated voters. She recently announced her campaign staff, which included senior strategist Tyler Deaton, a national political consultant who handled campaigns for LGBT issues geared toward conservatives.

When I was talking to Republicans last weekend at the El Paso County GOP assembly, one voter there, Bob Foote, told me there was something about Coffman that made him think she was a bit too liberal-leaning for him. He couldn’t recall what it was, “But the LGBT was one of them,” he said.

The view from an uncommitted Dem who doesn’t know what he’ll do before the state assembly

I first met Joe Ayala while I was covering a Jill Stein campaign swing through Colorado Springs in the summer of 2016. Ayala, who supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries, works at a bolt-manufacturing company and drove two and a half hours from La Junta in hopes of meeting Stein. Joe told me that day the two-party system wasn’t working for him and he wanted to work to change it.

Flash forward two years and now he’s the Democratic Party chairman for Otero County, swept, like many young Sanders supporters were, into the official infrastructure of the Colorado Democratic Party during its post-election reshuffling last year. As a delegate to the state convention, he will have a vote to cast on April 14th in Broomfield to help decide who gets the Democratic nomination for governor. Ayala, who is 31 and has two young daughters and whose wife is on the local school board, has no idea what he’s going to do since his favorite in the race, Noel Ginsburg, dropped out. Ayala at first didn’t like a remark Ginsburg made about Colorado potentially nominating someone too far left who might lose in a general election. He said he called Ginsburg on it when he saw him at a local public event and the two talked. He grew to like his straight-talking style. “He didn’t say anything that was too neoliberal for me,” Ayala said in a phone call this week. Now, he’s struggling to choose whom to back. “I know Jared, I know Cary. I don’t want us to lose but it’s like every sense of me is uncommitted,” he says. “I don’t have a favorite.”

The biggest issues for him are education, the environment, and social justice. Fracking isn’t a big thing where he lives, but, “I don’t think Hickenlooper has done a great job on that. I think he’s been real soft on the oil and gas people. I’d like to see a governor do something on that.” Alaya liked the way Polis came off in a 2014 profile in 5280 magazine, especially on the fracking issue, but when he posted the piece on Facebook it sparked a war between Polis opponents and supporters on his timeline that left him dizzy. He’s wary of Mike Johnson’s ties to the education reform movement and wonders where Polis might differ on education from Kennedy, who is backed by the teachers unions. He thinks Polis’s public pledge of not taking PAC money or anything more than $100 is a little misleading because what it really means is he’s spending his own Big Money. He says his Democratic friends seem like they’re going for Polis or Kennedy. “No one talks about Donna Lynne,” he says. With two weeks to go before the convention, he’ll be reading up more on all of them. “I think I’m going to go to the floor and hear the speeches,” he says of the looming state assembly in Broomfield where he’s more excited about voting for Joe Salazar for attorney general. “Hopefully one of them changes my mind there.”

Hey, big (secret) spender

Erik Underwood, a Republican-turned-Democrat in the governor’s race who is running partly on a platform abolishing TABOR and has been making his case at debates, campaign stops and forums around the state, is getting attention for something else: Not reporting the money he is spending on his bid, which, he told us, is “north of $100,000.” We wrote about how Colorado’s unique campaign-finance system that outsources enforcement to the private sector allows such secret spending to happen. (Watch his speech to the El Paso County Democratic Party’s assembly here.)

Meanwhile, data journalist Sandra Fish at KUNC who is tracking the disclosed money in the governor’s race and found, so far, “though March 23, the candidates booked or aired more than $570,000 in radio and television ads to boost their campaigns to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.” Leading the spending spree is Republican Victor Mitchell, an entrepreneur and ex-lawmaker who is pledging to throw down $3 million of his own personal money in the race.

A Republican firm polled 410 Dems and unaffiliated voters and found…

A tight match between Polis and Kennedy.

From Colorado-based Magellan Strategies:

Congressman Jared Polis currently leads the field for the [Democratic] nomination for Governor with 27% support followed by former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy with 23% support. Former state Senator Mike Johnston is third with 8% support, Lt. Governor Donna Lynne has 5% support, 1% support a generic “other” candidate and 36% of [Democratic] primary voters are undecided.

In the [Democratic] primary for Attorney General, State Representative Joe Salazar currently has a commanding 29-point lead over former Obama Justice Department official Phil Weiser, 34% to 5% respectively. Rounding out the field is federal prosecutor Amy Padden with 5% support, defense attorney Brad Levin with 4% support and 51% of respondents are undecided.

“Among female voters it is a statistical tie, with Cary Kennedy leading Jared Polis by 1 point, 25% to 24% respectively,” Magellan says. “However, female voters historically contribute about 60% to the total votes cast in a [Democratic] primary election in Colorado. Another observation is Jared Polis holds a 23-point lead over Cary Kennedy among unaffiliated voters, 30% to 7%. However, it is important to note that the survey interviewed only 51 unaffiliated voters and that measurement has a margin of error of +/- 13.8%.”

Introducing Mike Littwin’s Official Unofficial weekly #CO2018 rankings

Each Friday, Colorado Independent columnist Mike Littwin will convene a special panel of hand-picked election handicappers for an Official Unofficial ranking in the 2018 governor’s race. Check out his first installment to see who’s up, who’s down, and who’s sideways in this sprawling race.

Candidate schedules for this week

Want to learn more about the candidates running for governor and see them in person yourself?

On April 4 Democrat Jared Polis will hit up 2208 Tamarron Ln., in Lafayette at 5:30 p.m., and then 2255 Emerald Rd. in Boulder at 7.

On April 3, Republican Doug Robinson will be speaking at 4646 Tierra Alta Dr. in Castle Rock at 6 p.m. On April 5 at noon he’ll be at The Bounty Restaurant & Gift Shop 413 w. rainbow Blvd. in Salida, and on April 6 he’s hitting up the Campus Cafe at 435 Poncha Ave. in Alamosa at 8 a.m.

On April 5, Democrats Donna Lynne, Mike Johnston, and Erik Underwood are scheduled to speak at a luncheon for a Denver society of security and financial analysts at noon at 1700 E. 1st Ave. in Denver.

On April 12, Republican Victor Mitchell will speak to the DU College Republicans at 2055 E Evans Ave. in Denver.

On April 12, Democrat Mike Johnston will be in Colorado Springs at 221 E Washington St. at 6 p.m.