Littwin’s Official Unofficial #CO2018 governor’s race rankings, Week Five

Illustration by Mike Keefe

Now that the last in a seemingly endless series of GOP petition-signature SNAFUs has been resolved— the last in the governor’s race anyway— we move on to … what?

Face it folks, we’re looking at a brief lull here— call it the post-assembly, pre-TV-ad-barrage phase of the race— in which the remaining candidates begin to pull together their strategies for the home stretch, which is closer than you think.

The good news is that it gives those of us at the Littwin gov panel headquarters the opportunity to clear up some lingering issues. Such as:

1. How big a role will the unaffiliated voters— now, for the first in Colorado, allowed to participate in primary races— actually play? (My guess: bigger than many think, particularly on the Dem side.)

2. Is the signature-petitioning system screwed up (it’s unanimous: yes), but if it’s the system, why do the problems seem to be only on the Republican side? And, for that matter, why does anyone care whether the circulators are Colorado residents? I mean, shouldn’t the signatures be the issue, not the collectors of signatures?

3. Can anyone reasonably challenge Walker Stapleton, the establishment favorite, and Tom Tancredo’s new best friend, now that Cynthia “At Least I Never Got a DUI” Coffman is out of the race?

We’ll start with Stapleton. The answer is probably no, unless, of course, you remember all the way back to 2010 when Scott McInnis had the nomination all wrapped up before that plagiarism scandal hit, and Dan Maes, to the embarrassment of every Republican, won the primary. Panelist Cinamon Watson remembers and asks plaintively, “Why would you remind us of that?”

Panelist Josh Penry, briefly a candidate in that long-ago McInnis-Maes race, says he expects the 2018 election to heat up quickly and for “Robinson and Mitchell to start throwing punches any time now” — not that such a strategy worked for Coffman. Panelist Alan Salazar thinks Mitchell has an outside chance, “if he gets voters, and not dogs, to pay attention.”

As for unaffiliated voters, no one knows the answer, but guessing the answer is what the pros are paid to do. Penry thinks it’s pretty clear. “Anyone who says the Indies aren’t going to be a big-ass deal doesn’t know jack hooey. These are all votes on the margin. Literally, new votes. A virgin forest ready for a clear cut. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the chance to offend your tree-hugging readers.)

“With mail ballots, it isn’t terribly difficult to identify and turn out those votes either. Figure out what messages pop. Mail ‘em a bunch. Dump a bunch of digital on ‘em. They’ll see your TV ads, too. Boom – those voters are yours.”

OK, maybe it’s not quite that easy. And it’s certainly not going to be inexpensive. That’s all we need — more money in these races. Speaking of which, in any conversation with Jared Polis, he brings up unaffiliated voters more or less constantly.

Meanwhile, Salazar puts us on irony alert— a rare beast in a primary race— noting that “The irony is that this law was supposed to moderate the extremes, particularly in the GOP, but Trump’s dysfunctional presidency is on trial with voters this year. So that will mean unaffiliated voters flock to the Dem banner in 2018.” It could also mean that the potential for cross-over vote— see Lynne, Donna— may not be a successful selling point.

OK, now the signatures. Let’s start with the incompetence involved here. “Rules are rules,” Watson says. “Play the game.” And the rules may be cumbersome, they may be archaic, but they aren’t all that hard to understand. And yet. And yet.

Silverii also thinks the rules are rules and has to laugh when relating how the game is played out in the GOP primary so far. The people who got the Walker Stapleton signature-gathering scandal going were Doug Robinson’s signature-gathering people — called the Signature Gathering Company — who, it turned out, couldn’t gather enough signatures themselves, meaning Robinson had to go to court to get on the ballot. Silverii: Maybe the company “should have spent more time, you know, Gathering Signatures, and less time playing Spy vs. Spy.”

Salazar defers slightly, wondering why “in the era where these ‘grassroots’ efforts are largely paid for and handled by professional operators,” anyone should care so long as the signatures are valid. He adds, though, that “I will stand corrected if (attorney extraordinaire) Mark Grueskin feels differently.”

And so on to the standings.


1. Walker Stapleton. He’s got everything going for him. Money, endorsements, money. OK, there is the signature foul-up and the Stapleton name thing, meaning the KKK connection. But I’m not going to blame Stapleton for his grandfather’s politics. There’s enough to blame Stapleton for his own politics.

2. Doug Robinson. He’s on the ballot. He won the first debate (which Stapleton dodged). He’s got the folksy thing working. Uncle Mitt will come to campaign for him, which may or may not be a plus.

3. Victor Mitchell. The panel was undecided between Mitchell and Greg Lopez for the third spot. I cast the deciding vote out of guilt for the dog-commercial jokes (which, however, we’ll keep using until they’re no longer funny).

4. Greg Lopez. The assembly is over. Lopez was the big surprise there. But for Lopez is to have a chance, he has to keep the excitement going. We’re waiting.


1. Cary Kennedy. Well, there were 10,000 or so teachers marching on the Capitol, and teachers, you might know, sit in the front row of any Kennedy cheering section. So, following her assembly win, that has to be a good thing.

2. Jared Polis. Kennedy won the base at the assembly, which doesn’t mean she’ll capture the base in the primary. But Polis is definitely on the trail for the unafilliateds. Penry explains the importance: “It is entirely possible that a candidate could win traditional Democratic primary voters by 5 or more points and still lose the primary.”

3.  Mike Johnston. 

His biggest problem may be with teachers or maybe it’s more a problem with the teachers’ union. In any case, Johnston was at the big rally Thursday. Here’s the photo and tweet from Joe St. George:

And as Chalkbeat’s Erica Meltzer noted, “If you read the comments on Chalkbeat’s Facebook page, you would think Mike Johnston would be eaten alive at a teacher rally. Yet here he is, unscathed.”

4. Donna LynneShe needs an issue. Or an ad push. Or something.


Panelists: Big-shot GOP strategist Josh Penry, principal at EIS; long-time Dem strategist and Hancock chief of staff Alan Salazar; ProgressNow progressive Ian Silverii; GOP strategist, and always good quote, Cinamon Watson, principal at Blueprint Strategies— and, of course. me.


  1. “Can you find the gubernatorial candidate in this photo?”

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it is the one obvious person NOT wearing red or high visibility yellow. If I’m right, there’s one further piece of good news — in the picture, he doesn’t have his mouth open talking, but appears to be listening.

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