Two top staffers for Donna Lynne’s campaign for governor have left or are on the way out amid a staffing shakeup just as the latest fundraising reports become public and primary ballots go out in a little more than a month.
Lynne is a former healthcare executive and the current lieutenant governor who is running her first campaign for public office. She is one of four candidates in an anything-could-happen Democratic primary in Colorado. Her three rivals in the primary have raised more money than Lynne, with one self funding, and are also benefitting from independent groups spending on their behalf.
Bolting the Lynne campaign in this final stretch is Curtis Hubbard, whose OnSight Public Affairs firm guided the gubernatorial bids of current Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and who served as a communications consultant for Lynne.
Hubbard confirmed his upcoming departure will be May 18 and said he will instead focus all his campaign energy on a statewide redistricting reform ballot initiative.
“I’ve only got a limited bandwidth to work on projects,” says Hubbard, who has been with the Lynne campaign since she announced last summer. “They now have a full-time communications person, so they’re in a good spot.”
Also out the door is Ethan Susseles, a 27-year-old Democratic consultant from Washington, D.C. who has handled races in half a dozen states and served as Lynne’s campaign manager since she announced in August. He confirmed today that he left the campaign at the end of April as others came on board.
“I was with the campaign through the important milestone of getting Donna on the ballot and encouraged the campaign to bring on new leadership for the final two months of the race,” Susseles told The Colorado Independent.
The campaign’s new full-time spokeswoman is Michele Ames, a former reporter and PR professional who signed on about two weeks ago along with a new campaign manager and three other new co-chairs. She says the campaign is “under some new management” and is “moving forward.” She rejected any notion that the exit of Hubbard and Susseles are an indication of a campaign overhaul in the final stretch before the June 26 primary. Ballots for the race start hitting mailboxes around mid-June.
Ames points to a list of 80 high-profile Colorado women who support Lynne, and says the campaign is building momentum. “That’s what’s happening,” she says. “Do we have millionaires writing us checks to run independent expenditures? I don’t think that’s the only measure of a viable campaign in Colorado.”
Last summer, when Lynne launched her bid, Hickenlooper praised her, saying she would be a “great” governor. “She’s like a Hoover vacuum cleaner of problems,” Hickenlooper said. “They just disappear, and everyone’s happy.” But he has yet to either endorse or campaign with her and her campaign has struggled to catch fire, in part because Lynne has kept her full-time job as lieutenant governor, which has limited her time on the campaign trail.
Until recently, she’s also taken a more low-key approach. At a country club forum in Denver in early April, she said has been rolling out a series of policy papers rather than “a lot of slogans.” She started with a proposal on healthcare, and followed up with others dedicated to working families and affordable housing.
But that approach has left her in the shadow of primary opponents former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Boulder Congressman Jared Polis, and ex-State Sen. Mike Johnston on the campaign trail. Kennedy and Polis went through the caucus-and-assembly process, earning early votes by dedicated party activists, and gathering earned media from headlines in the process. Kennedy handily won both the March precinct caucuses and the state assembly in April. Johnston released the first TV ad of the Democratic primary.
In conversations with more than a dozen hardcore Democratic activists who showed up to the El Paso County Democratic assembly in early April, nearly all of them said they did not know Lynne, who has put $100,000 of her own money into her campaign, was even in the race.
“Don’t count me out yet, kiddo,” Lynne told The Colorado Independent last month as Kennedy and Polis were garnering headlines in the lead-up to the state Democratic assembly and Johnston was getting out in front on gun violence with TV ads and town halls.
Since then, and appearing in one televised debate, Lynne has hit the trail harder— she walked 26 miles down Colfax Avenue in Denver, meeting voters— and aired her first TV commercial, a provocative ad in which she actually gets a tattoo of the Colorado flag’s “C” logo and the words “Fight for Colorado” inked on her shoulder.
Colorado Democratic consultant Steve Welchert says he doesn’t know Lynne personally, but everyone who does tells him she’s bright, capable and terrific. But he says he doesn’t feel she’s been able to channel that into an effective campaign. On the Democratic side, he says, “There are three people running for governor and no one is going to waste their vote on a tattoo.”
The Lynne campaign, however, proved adept at getting on the ballot with a lean operation — something that evaded other higher-profile candidates in this year’s sprawling race. Lynne did not hire a firm to handle her signature-gathering effort to petition onto the June 26 primary ballot and spent only about $60,000 using staff and volunteers while other campaigns spent double that. Two Republican candidates who spent boatloads more on their own efforts ran into snags and scandal.
News of the Lynne campaign shakeup comes as the gubernatorial candidates on Monday opened the books to show the latest fundraising totals. With $311,000 in the bank, Lynne lags behind the others. Candidates have started using their cash to go on TV. Lynne is also so far the only Democratic gubernatorial hopeful not yet benefiting from an independent Super PAC-style group backing her bid.
“I will grant you that Michael Bloomberg hasn’t written her a million-dollar check,” Lynne’s new spokeswoman Ames said in reference to a donation the former New York City mayor made to a group supporting Johnston.
About a week ago, the Lynne campaign announced three new co-chairs were coming on board— current State Sen. Lucia Guzman, former lawmaker Penfield Tate, and consultant Jean Galloway, a former vice president at 9News. The announcement didn’t mention any campaign staff was leaving.
Ames said the Lynne campaign will soon be doing a “strong social media push” that highlights Lynne’s policy vision and tells her personal story. “She does as much as she can,” Ames says about the lieutenant governor’s campaign schedule. “She’s not able to do it full time.”