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

Illustration by Mike Keefe

In Week 7 of the Littwin Gov Rankings, our all-star panel follows the money, which happens to be the oldest cliché in the political business and, in many cases, the most critical.

If you missed reporter Sandra Fish’s two revealing pieces in the Indy on the money race —who’s raised it, who’s spent it, whose Super PAC is rolling in it, who’s gonna be on TV, who’s got any money left— it’s worth your time to check them out now.

Her key charts:


Let’s start with one mind-blowing number, the one showing Jared Polis had, as of May 2, contributed $6.3 million to his campaign. Let me see if I can spell that out for you: $6,300,000. In other words, that’s an astonishing number of zeroes. And the thing is, he’s got a lot more zeroes. I can’t help but think back to the halcyon days when Polis spent only $1 million to win a seat on the state Board of Education.

Will that money become an issue in the race? Republicans are sure to say that he’s trying to buy the governor’s seat, which would be, uh, funny, coming from the Citizens United team. I wonder if any Democrat will try it out for them.

On the Republican side, Victor Mitchell has contributed $3 million to his campaign.  And, according to our panel (and basically everyone else), he’s still a long way from overtaking Walker Stapleton as the leading contender.

As panelist Alan Salazar put it, “Money is, indeed, the mother’s milk of politics, and in this race, Victor Mitchell and Jared Polis own their own dairies.”  But, he adds, “Political history is littered with rich guys (and most are guys) who spent boatloads of their own money to buy elective office but lost.”

In the case of Polis — who has unanimously moved back to No. 1 in our polling, which suggests that money does more than talk — the question is what Cary Kennedy and/or Mike Johnston can do about it. I know that there are Dem strategists who insist Polis has a likeability ceiling, but I’m not sure that has ever been put to the test.

Panelist Josh Penry says he’s impressed by Kennedy’s and Johnston’s numbers and their ability to raise money. (Just look at the massive numbers from the Frontier Fairness Super Pac, backing Johnston: $3.8 million from ed-reform community, mostly from out of state.) But Penry notes: “Unfortunately for them, we also learned for absolute certain that Jared Polis doesn’t have any hesitation just buying this thing … Ed Perlmutter is looking like a very, very smart man.”

Penry says we’ll now see who, if anyone, has the “guts” to go after Polis. “When you see these jaw dropping sums he is spending, it sort of boils down to some fairly simple questions — which candidate is willing to throw real punches at Polis, and can that candidate survive a several-million-dollar counteroffensive from Polis?”

On the Republican side, the money works very differently. Stapleton has raised money, has a large Super PAC, is the favorite of the Republican establishment and, despite his petitions gaffe and his embrace of Tom Tancredo, seems to be the clear leader.

What he hasn’t done is particularly excite voters, which may be because he’s not, well, particularly exciting.

And then there’s Mitchell, who has more money. One Republican strategist told me he’s yet to meet a Mitchell supporter who wasn’t a paid Mitchell supporter. That may be a slight exaggeration, but our panel pretty much agrees that Mitchell is not getting much bang for his TV buck.

Panelist Ian Silverii said he wanted to put Mitchell at the top of the rankings, given a slow fundraising period for Stapleton, but says the problem for Mitchell is that “despite spending all that money no one seems to like him that much.”   

Penry thinks the ad buys have done Mitchell a disservice. “Victor is an outsider. Victor is an ass kicker. His folks should lose the puppy dog and let him make his case.”

Salazar has an idea for how he might make the case — “to take those dogs he was talking to to the top of the Continental Divide, reposition the podium and say that Colorado’s next governor … needs to work with Donald Trump. Might be a light embrace that trumps (pun intended) Walker’s flirtation with Tancredo, affiliates with Trump voters and motivates people to take a look at him.”

Mitchell has ID problems. Doug Robinson has ID problems and needs to raise more money.

And panelist Cinamon Watson says she’s still looking for signs that their supporters have shown the kind of, well, ardency an underdog candidate needs.

“Show me a candidate who can inspire 10 people to put up yard signs in a snowstorm at 3:00 in the morning, and I’ll show you a candidate that can make it across the finish line,” she says. “Think John Swartout climbing a fourteener with Wayne Allard signs in the wee hours of the morning to sully Tom Strickland’s mountain climb and photo op. Loyalty matters.”

We’re not at the mountain top yet, but here are the Week 7 rankings:


1. Jared PolisWho wants to start the pool on how much money Polis puts into this race? And do you think that it will be more money than Scott Pruitt spends on his travels? Polis will definitely win the money race, which is an important start.

2. Cary KennedyThat down arrow doesn’t mean much of anything, except that Polis has put up his $6 million. As Watson put it, because of the Polis money “she has to play smart to win, and by all accounts she has done just that.”

3.  Mike Johnston. He’s got the most room to grow. He’s got the money — money he’s raised and Super Pac money, too — to do it. The panel is near unanimous that he’s got a charisma edge. But it’s time that he makes a real move, if he’s going to make one.

4. Donna LynneHer campaign pretty much blew up this week. She still hasn’t shown where her constituency is outside those with tattoos (not that there aren’t a hell of a lot of them).


1. Walker StapletonHe got on the ballot. He has won statewide twice, including beating Cary Kennedy once. The establishment is behind him and also, yes, Tom Tancredo. If  Stapleton gets challenged, you can expect to see more money headed his way.

2.Doug RobinsonOK, Uncle Mitt. But he has to be known for more than that. Silverii notes that the reports show a lot of money spent on polling, but nothing leaking to this point, suggesting, “My guess is that the race is still very ill defined, on both sides, but that’s likely to change pretty soon.”

3.Victor MitchellOur panel is split between Mitchell and Robinson as Stapleton’s primary contender. I voted for a tie for second.

4. Greg LopezThe fundraising numbers show he’s not a serious candidate. But he’ll always have Boulder.


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. I think that you guys are making a mistake with Lopez. Does he have the money? No, he does not have the millions of dollars that other candidates have. Do the VOTERS see this as a disadvantage? I don’t think that they do. Lopez is a dark horse in this race. I would keep an eye out for an earth shattering win.

    What’s interesting, is that the panel appears to completely ignore the fact that Lopez gains more support more consistently from straw polls than any other candidate except for (sometimes) Stapleton. Time will tell, but I think you are in for a fun ride. A small repeat of Trump, if you will.

    I enjoy these rankings! They are extremely informative and very well thought out. Keep up the good work!

  2. Speaking of “a candidate who can inspire 10 people to put up yard signs in a snowstorm at 3:00 in the morning, and I’ll show you a candidate that can make it across the finish line” someone is creating Lopez for Governor buttons of their own volition.

    May want to look into that.

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