Illustration by Mike Keefe
The excitement is building here at the Littwin gov rankings headquarters. You can feel it in the air, or, if you’re willing to risk seeing Rudy Giuliani again, you can just turn on your TV. The ad wars are finally beginning, particularly on the Dem side.
In the headliner, Donna Lynne gets a fight-for-Colorado tattoo (she swears she already had at least one tat) from an actual tattoo parlor in a Hick-evocative ad that might as well have said, “Dude, I can be as quirky as the next governor.” She also points out that she was a single mom for years, and we know that no matter how quirky Hick might be, he can never match that.
Meanwhile, Mike Johnston has a two-fer on the air — a much-praised Spanish-language ad showing his fluency in the language (this ad is getting a limited TV run) and one in English showing the strength of his big-money PAC. My Spanish isn’t what it used to be — and, to be honest, it was never that good — but, according to the campaign, the money line in Johnston’s ad is translated this way: “If you live in Colorado, and you’re building your life right here, then you are an American and this is your home,” Which is not exactly how the sanctuary-city-obsessed Republicans in the field would frame it. For Johnston, it seems as if he is making his long-awaited and also multilingual move.
The theme of Cary Kennedy’s ad is that as governor she would protect Colorado from the ravages of the Trump administration. But until then, she and the family would take off in the car to places in Colorado where Trump’s tweets won’t reach. The ad demonstrates just how far Kennedy has come as a candidate. You can plainly see, as the family heads out the driveway, that, in this video, Kennedy is not doing the driving.
The strange thing is that this is all good news for Jared Polis, who is not the frontrunner in our poll this week, but still, I’m guessing, the true frontrunner. He has an ad out, too, but that’s not where his good news begins. He also picked up an endorsement from Pat Schroeder, but, while a plus, that’s not all the good news either.
If Johnston is on the move, that’s good news for Polis.
If Lynne finally makes some impact, that’s good news for Polis.
Even if Kennedy had lots of positives, a big fundraising quarter — she raised more than $800,000 while Johnston brought in $600,000 — and also an endorsement by Ken Salazar, that still can’t bother Polis too much if, in fact, Johnston is making a move and Lynne remains viable.
The more people in the race, the conventional wisdom goes, the better it is for the self-funding, million-bucks-TV-campaign-in-waiting, campaign-offices-across-the-state candidate, which, as we know, is Polis.
As panelist Alan Salazar, the Dem strategist, put it, “I suspect that Jared’s campaign manager goes to bed every night praying that Cary, Mike and Donna all stay in the race.”
Panelist Josh Penry, the GOP strategist, basically agrees. “A highly fragmented race with several formidable alternatives means his magic number is 35-40% of the vote,” Penry says of Polis. “Six to eight million bucks will buy you a lot of things. Definitely a private jet and probably 35-40% in a Democratic primary.”
On the Republican side, no one was paying much attention to the governor’s race. The headlines were all about Rep. Doug Lamborn overcoming his fraudulent signature gathering and just general incompetence in his campaign to finally make it onto the ballot. Seriously, how hard can it be for Lamborn to get 1,000 signatures in Colorado Springs? Another thing: Am I the only one who notices the irony of GOP candidates continually going the so-called activist-judge route to slide their way onto the ballot?
We relearned the lesson of 2016, which panelist Ian Silverii sums up as “no matter how badly these candidates are bungling their petitions and their tactics, the court keeps erring on the side of, you know, democracy.”
We need all the democracy we can get, but the biannual trek to the courtroom can’t be the best place to find it.
Meanwhile, panelist Salazar points out that Democrats should be rooting for Lamborn, the one incumbent who always draws a pack of challengers. “Democrats should worry about Owen Hill in my opinion,” he says. “If he goes to Congress, he could be a rising statewide star.”
But that’s for another year. For now onto Week 6 of this year’s Littwin gov rankings:
1. Cary Kennedy. She made a six-figure buy with her new ad, which Silverii says is the best ad of the gubernatorial cycle and one that “shows her personality without permanently and irrevocably marking her body for eternity.”
2. Jared Polis. We’re waiting for the TV ad barrage to begin in force. There is some thought (hope?) in various Dem camps that Polis has a likability ceiling. If that’s true, we’ll see how well his ads address it.
3. Mike Johnston. Kennedy got Ken Salazar, who many thought would be in this race, to endorse her. Endorsements may not mean much these days, but it’s probably the best one available on the Democratic side. It’s stunning to me that there is no Latino in the Democratic field, especially considering the size of the vote in the Democratic primary. But Johnston, with his ad and his Spanish fluency, is obviously making a play for that vote.
4. Donna Lynne. The ad has done its job. It’s the first time since Lynne announced that she has made any real headlines. Her tattoo, says panelist Cinamon Watson, “gets my vote as the boldest move of the week. Will she keep it or will she laser it off after Election Day?” Penry says the ad, “as gimmicky as it was, did have an underlying message — Donna = four more years of Hick. In a race where all the other Democrats are veering hard left, it’s a smart approach.”
1. Walker Stapleton. The strategists are pretty much unanimous that getting onto the ballot may have been the toughest battle Stapleton has to fight in this primary. He’s on the air with Super PAC money. And he’ll stay on there air pretty much constantly through the primary season.
2.Doug Robinson. Uncle Mitt comes to town and will probably help Robinson raise some serious money. Watson says he has an impressive group of donors lined up. But, as panelist Salazar says, Romney would have been a much better draw “in the BT (before Trump) era.” Robinson is showing himself to be more moderate than the field on a few issues and given the absence of Cynthia “What the Hell Happened” Coffman, that might be the place for him to be.
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.