On a recent Tuesday, as the sun set through large windows of a living room home looking out over the rolling hills and mountains in conservative Douglas County, a retired investment banker and first-time candidate was pitching himself as part of a new breed of state leader.
“Today there are seven business governors, all Republicans, most of whom have had no prior government experience,” said Doug Robinson, who is running for governor of Colorado. “My two favorites— partly because of their first names, but I really like them, I’ve met with them— are both named Doug.”
Robinson, who is 56, is very tall, and speaks in an earnest way with lots of 90-degree chopping motions at the elbows. The governors he was talking about are Doug Ducey of Arizona and Doug Burgum in North Dakota.* Ducey was CEO of the Cold Stone Creamery ice cream store chain; Burgum was a software entrepreneur.
Robinson, who raised money for technology companies in the world of financial services, said the two Dougs are making things happen in their states because they come from outside the bureaucratic warrens of this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it government.
“They have a new way of looking at things,” Robinson said. “They bring in people from outside as well. So that’s what I hope to do for Colorado.”
The 2018 election, Robinson said, is about the direction of the state. “Do we become more like California or not?” he asked a crowd that included at least four California transplants who registered their disapproval of the Golden State.
Kieth Moreland, a large man with a bald head and a mustache who says he spent 30 years as a cop in L.A., sees California as a state with growing tent cities of homeless people, feces piling up on the sidewalks and needles in the streets. Government there, he said, is just too permissive. “It is as if the taxpayer is the last person on the list, that last person of importance.”
California is also taking a beating from the White House these days.
President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recently sued the state, which is led by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, over three laws the DOJ says hamper federal immigration officials from being able to do their jobs.
“This sanctuary crap is for the birds,” said a woman named Karen in the Castle Rock living room who declined to give her last name.
The GOP field for governor in Colorado is aligned on the issue— each of the eight running oppose so-called sanctuary cities. A recent poll by a Colorado-based firm found that for 43 percent of Republicans here, enforcing immigration laws is a top priority GOP voters want the next governor to address.
In Castle Rock on Tuesday, Robinson, who calls himself a pragmatic conservative and not an ideologue, said he does not believe Colorado should be a “sanctuary” state.
“This is exactly what Jerry Brown is pushing in California,” he said in the living room as flames in a fireplace flickered behind him. “I have a different belief. I believe we obey the law. Sure, we’re compassionate to people of all backgrounds, we welcome them, but those that have committed crimes, we obey the laws.”
California’s woes, he said, also include taxes, affordable housing, and clogged roadways.
This year, the race to lead this purple landlocked swing state with one of the nation’s strongest economies is likely to have a crowded primary ballot. Candidates from both parties are vying for an open-seat in the first gubernatorial election in a generation where it’s really anyone’s to win.
The candidates include three current statewide officeholders, two former lawmakers, two ex-statewide officeholders, a congressman, a former mayor, a county commissioner, multiple businessmen and entrepreneurs. One man is running entirely because of his support for Donald Trump, and another has ties to the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers network.
A week from now, on Saturday, April 14, this field will shake out as some of the candidates are bounced from the race following the state party assemblies, during which chosen delegates will decide who best to put on the June 26 ballot.
Still, plenty of average voters aren’t yet paying attention to the race, including some of those who came to listen to Robinson. Several couldn’t name more than one or two of the eight Republicans running.
For Cherise and Graham Glauser, who heard about the Robinson event from a family member, it’s a bit early in the political season to start getting too familiar with this year’s candidates for governor. But Graham Glauser said he worries such a large field on the Republican side could mirror what happened in 2016 on the national stage.
“How many ran [in] the Republican Party for president that you didn’t know about,” he asked rhetorically.
Following Robinson’s presentation, Jean Ricci said she worried outside establishment money, maybe from Washington, D.C, had already found a candidate in the Colorado governor’s race to support: Walker Stapleton.
The current state treasurer, who is a cousin to George W. and Jeb Bush, had, as of January, raised more money than anyone else in the large GOP field, and brought in about 10 times more in the last quarter than Robinson, who pulled in about $78,000. Robinson, a nephew of Mitt Romney and cousin of Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, has his own ties to the establishment.
In a recent poll of GOP voters, Stapleton led with 26 percent with Attorney General Cynthia Coffman at 13 percent. Stapleton is benefiting from TV advertising that showcases a state treasurer’s office program and features him front and center, and also from the largesse of a Super PAC-style group that just spent six figures on its own ad.
In the past week, Robinson, who had 8 percent in the poll, lobbed a broadside at Stapleton, accusing his campaign of using improper tactics to gather signatures in order to get on the GOP primary ballot. Both candidates have decided to forgo the grassroots caucus-and-assembly process and attempt to get on the ballot by encouraging enough Republican voters to sign petitions. Robinson says he is not concerned about finding better purchase in a wide field against two statewide officeholders, each with high name recognition. He expected fewer than 20 might show up to the house party and more than double that did.
But on Tuesday, in his living room pitch to voters, Robinson did not mention Stapleton or any of his GOP rivals during a roughly 40-minute talk that focused largely on his personal background as a family man and Michigan native who worked in New York, moved to Colorado and wants to give back.
“I need to talk about [Stapleton] more,” he said in an interview later. The two largely agree on policy, he acknowledged, but Robinson says he takes issue with the state’s treasurer’s ability to lead.
“As we get into the next couple of months,” he offered, “we’re going to be making more clear that differentiation.”
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the state a governor governs.