Trail Marker: The week that was in the Colorado governor’s race

This past week on the campaign trail in the Colorado governor’s race saw some big spending on TV advertising— and accusations of getting free airtime— along with more clarity about what this Saturday’s state assemblies might look like, the first big TV debates set, and Governing magazine’s decision to keep this big race in its “tossup” category. In a first-of-its-kind this cycle, Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne launched a literal campaign marathon.

Meanwhile, after the Secretary of State’s Office announced Republican Walker Stapleton made the June 26 primary ballot, Doug Robinson, and Victor Mitchell, along with Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, are still waiting to hear if they will.

Why does that matter?

Because on Saturday, April 14, both parties are holding their state assemblies.

Those are gatherings of state delegates who will vote for Democratic and Republican candidates seeking to get on the ballot through the grassroots caucus-and-assembly process. Those who go through the assembly need 30 percent of the vote from the roughly 4,000 delegates who attend. If a candidate gets fewer than 30 percent but is on the ballot via petition, that candidate can still stay on the ballot. Any candidate who gets fewer than 10 percent of the vote cannot be on the ballot.

So, who is going to the assemblies?

We reported the big news that Mike Johnston will skip the Democratic state assembly, which will be held in Broomfield, making it a two-way slugfest between Cary Kennedy and Jared Polis. (Polis also turned in petitions.) Underdog Erik Underwood will also attend. Kennedy has already locked up 50 percent of the delegates, and Polis has around 33 percent, according to the respective campaigns. That leaves Underwood, who ran in 2016 as a Republican for U.S. Senate, looking like he’s on the bubble of being bounced from the race. Lynne, too, is skipping the assembly and hoping her campaign gathered enough petitions to get her directly on the ballot.

On the Republican side, the battle in Boulder will be over who can take down Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, the most well-known candidate in that primary. She’s risking her whole campaign on the assembly. Taking her on are former Trump campaign official Steve Barlock, ex-Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter, and businessman Barry Farah.

But will there be lawsuits?

As we reported last week, some critics of incumbent Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn, who represents the Colorado Springs area and faces a five-way primary, filed a lawsuit attacking the way he gathered petitions. The suit, we wrote, “might have lit the fuse for another ballot-access bomb in the race for governor.” The lawsuit alleges about half a dozen people hired to gather signatures for Lamborn’s campaign didn’t meet the residency requirements to do so. The same firm who did the work for Lamborn was the one working to get Stapleton on the ballot in the governor’s race.

So? “Everybody is going to ask for the signatures for Walker and go through them, and then they’re going to say, ‘We spotted this, and we spotted this, and we spotted this,’” Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels told us.

Indeed. Last week already we reported how Robinson had smacked Stapleton’s campaign, accusing the treasurer of paying dubious petition circulators to help him gather the required signatures to get on the ballot. Given the Lamborn lawsuit, Robinson’s spokeswoman told us this week that a potential legal challenge from Team Doug over Stapleton’s petitions isn’t off the table. “I would wager that we wouldn’t be the only ones looking at a potential lawsuit here,” she said.

As of Friday at 3 p.m, Bartels said, “a number” of people had already requested copies of Stapleton’s signatures. In 2016, after ProgressNow Colorado scoured the petition signatures of  Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jon Keyser, Keyser had to sue his way onto the ballot and a scandal over petition fraud erupted that dominated the narrative of the primary election.

Of Stapleton’s 19,214 signatures, only 11,325 were deemed valid, per the Secretary of State. ProgressNow Colorado’s director, Ian Silverii, signaled his enthusiasm to begin the scouring process once again.

Speaking of Robinson…

In the last indicator to come out of the GOP primary, this first-time candidate, nephew of Mitt Romney and cousin to the chair of the Republican National Committee, was polling at 8 percent, behind Cynthia Coffman (13 percent) and Stapleton, who was leading with 26 percent.

I wondered if the Robinson broadside might be part of a new campaign strategy to get out front in the race and take on Stapleton more directly in a broader context. So I popped in on a meet-and-greet event Robinson held at a home in Castle Rock on Tuesday that drew about 50 people from around the Douglas County area to see how he is positioning himself. He didn’t mention Stapleton or any of his GOP rivals in his pitch and largely stuck to his personal biography. You can read that dispatch here.

“I need to talk about [Stapleton] more,” Robinson told me 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.”

Donna Lynne’s long walk

“Don’t count me out yet, kiddo,” Colorado’s Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne said with a big laugh as I caught up with her following a forum at the Denver Country Club. She might have seen last Saturday’s story, which showed many Democrats I spoke with in El Paso County at the assembly didn’t know she was even running. Lynne was surprised to hear that, she said, because she had been in El Paso County for a big forum not too long ago.

But it’s clear Lynne hasn’t been out on the stump or gathering as much earned media as Kennedy, Polis, and Johnston in recent weeks. At the country club forum, she hit on that, saying she had rolled out a series of policy papers rather than “a lot of slogans.” She started with a proposal on healthcare, and her next, just out this week, is about working families. Two more are in the pipeline, about jobs and housing.

On Thursday, where she spoke along with Johnston and Underwood to a group of financial analysts on issues ranging from TABOR to Amazon, she was actually already acting governor— her boss, Hickenlooper was out of state in New York, she said. She had to duck out early, she told the crowd, because she had official work to do. Her day, she mentioned, starts at 6 a.m.

“It is a juggling act of trying to do these kinds of things and also getting out [on the trail],” she told me afterward. She said that as the state’s lieutenant governor she travels in that role across the state, hitting at 64 counties and meeting Coloradans. “Not in a coffee shop, but with people that want to have some impact on the lieutenant governor in their day-to-day lives,” she said.

But on Sunday Lynne was in full campaign mode, walking more than 26 miles of Colfax Avenue in downtown Denver— the length of a marathon— meeting voters.

If you haven’t seen Lynne on the stump yet, here’s a brief clip of her speaking last week to a group of financial analysts:

Wait, did California do a good thing?

Follow candidates for governor in Colorado closely enough and you hear a lot about California. It was a major takeaway from the Robinson event, i.e., don’t let the Centennial State become the Golden State. Democrat Cay Kennedy says it on the stump, too, in the context of congested roads and infrastructure.

But this week, Stapleton had some kind-of praise for that state’s governor on Denver’s Money Talk 1690 show this week.

“We need to change the retirement age,” Stapleton said. “In Colorado, it’s 58 for school teachers, 60 for everybody else. Jerry Brown of all people is on record in California saying because of the public pension crisis public workers should work until the age of 70. I tell people that any time you’re a decade or more behind Jerry Brown in anything it’s a good rule of thumb you have some catching up to do. We need to get real about retirement age.”

So, retirement age up to 70 in Colorado? It’s an idea that’s out there.

The first gubernatorial TV debates are set— and there’s already drama

KUSA 9News, Denver’s NBC affiliate, has decided which candidates it will allow on its stage to duke it out over why they would make a better governor.

The Democratic debate, held at the 9News studio this Wednesday, April 11, will feature Cary Kennedy, Mike Johnston, and Donna Lynne. It will air at 7 p.m. Jared Polis “was invited but refused to participate,” said 9News anchor Kyle Clark. The Polis campaign says he will be in Congress that day.

The Republican debate the following day will have Doug Robinson, Victor Mitchell, Greg Lopez and Barry Farah. “State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman were invited but also refused to participate,” Clark said.

Candidates who believe themselves to be frontrunners often will skip debates, avoiding the risk of what campaigns might consider an unforced error.

Already, some of the left-out candidates in the wide field are saying they’re being unfairly bounced from the stage. Republican Steve Barlock can’t believe the inclusion of Farah, who just jumped in the race a week or so ago, while Barlock has been campaigning since July and won some recent straw polls at GOP events. He popped Stapleton and Coffman for not participating, saying he assumes they’re watching their backs, afraid they’ll get attacked on the air in an environment they can’t control.

Brandon Rittiman, who will moderate the debates with Clark, said the station asked candidates to make an argument that they have a viable path to the nomination and also asked for input from groups like The Lincoln Club and the state League of Women Voters. The president of The Lincoln Club is a lawyer for the Stapleton campaign and the state Republican Party, fueling candidates like Barlock to rage against the establishment machine.

Fun fact: Technically, these aren’t the first debates in the race. We told you about the first head-to-head debate among candidates in Aspen in late September between Republican Lew Gaiter and Democrat Erik Underwood. What was it about? Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.

Showing just how sprawling this governor’s race already is…

This was a headline on the front page of Monday’s Cañon City Daily Record newspaper: “Senate President Kevin Grantham says he has no plans to run for governor.”

The Republican side did just see a new entry within the past few weeks, so why not ask right? The question for Grantham, the GOP leader of Colorado’s state Senate, came during a public meeting in his district, perhaps a sign that some voters assume there’s still room for another candidate in a primary that already includes eight.

“There’s plenty of ambitious people who want to do that. I’m not one of them,” Grantham said, according to the paper. “We’ll have an interesting governor’s race, and there’s plenty of people in it, plenty of people to find to support.”


Anything new from that Lynne-Johnston-Underwood forum?

Asked what each candidate thought current Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has done well and done poorly, Johnston said he liked Hick’s non-partisan-ish collaborative approach to ideas. “I don’t know if it’s something that he didn’t do well but what is undone still is ‘What is the long-range plan for how you can solve the growth of this state rather than being able to sort of incrementally make changes year by year” and solving the “constitutional crisis” created by TABORGallagher, and Amendment 23. He says he wants to run a ballot measure in his first term that would repeal “the worst parts of TABOR.”

Lynne didn’t note anything she thought the current governor has done poorly, but she did say, “I think we haven’t had the conversation” about how to better fund education in Colorado. “We all know there are four-day school weeks in half of our districts, we are not paying teachers what they should be paid, but how do we find the revenue to do that?”

Lynne and Johnston agreed voters likely wouldn’t scrap TABOR because they like to vote on tax increases, but she said TABOR, Gallagher, and Amendment 23 have formulas that don’t flex with time and circumstances so she would look at all three of those for a potential ballot measure to untangle them.

Candidate schedules for this week

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

You’ll have your chance Monday evening at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley for a debate featuring Democrats Mike Johnston, Donna Lynne and Erik Underwood and Republicans Doug Robinson, Steve Barlock and Greg Lopez. Libertarian Scott Helker will also be there, as will unaffiliated candidate John French. Click here for more info.

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

Democrat Cary Kennedy will be at Mountain View Bar in the First Bank Center, 11450 Broomfield Lane on April 13 at 6 p.m.

Democrats Jared Polis, Kennedy and Erik Underwood will be at the Democratic Party’s state assembly at 1st Bank Center, 11450 Broomfield Lane in Broomfield April 14.

Republican Doug Robinson will bet at The Moot House at 2626 S College Ave, Fort Collins on April 11 at noon.

Republicans Cynthia Coffman, Barry Farah, Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez, and Lew Gaiter will be at the University of Colorado in Boulder for the GOP’s state assembly on April 14.


Photo by Corey Hutchins from a September campaign kick-off event in Colorado Springs 


  1. About the Wednesday night Gov. debate. I am personally uncommitted in that race. However, I talked with Jared Polis and believe Channel 9’s Kyle is lying by omission. Polis is in DC this week with votes coming up in Congress and offered to participate via satellite from a DC TV studio. Kyle rejected that offer and has made it sound as if Jared refused to participate. Also Kyle knew weeks ago that Polis has to be in DC this week but was in Colorado and free to participate last week. Also Erik Underwood was not invited by Kyle.

Comments are closed.