Trail Marker: Speed dating and money-raking in the Colorado governor’s race

Greg Lopez and his wife

This week found the candidates reveling— or not— in their new fundraising numbers, which became public. Meanwhile, one gubernatorial hopeful went through a campaign staff overhaul, and most of them spent a day speed dating (no, really) with unaffiliated voters as TV cameras rolled. Republican Greg Lopez got some love in El Paso County.

There are 43 days until the June 26 primary and the race hasn’t yet captured national attention.

It was four months ago when Frank Bruni of The New York Times dropped in and left Colorado saying our race is “the country’s most interesting, bringing together an eclectic cast whose fates will speak volumes about what kind of candidate — young or old, male or female, entrepreneur or technocrat, affluent or not — voters want in the aftermath of Trump’s election.”

That will likely change in the coming weeks as national reporters train their eyes on our square, swing state to see what kind of Democrat and Republican is catching fire.

Reminder: Keep an eye on our entire page dedicated to the 2018 governor’s race

Show us the money…

On May 7, the campaigns of the eight candidates opened their books and showed us how well— or not— they have been able to ask people to donate money to their campaigns.

As we wrote, Boulder Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, who is self-funding his bid, loaded $6.3 million into his war chest so far, “and there’s plenty more where that came from.” Polis is running as a “bold progressive,” and his message this week has been about his background as an internet tech entrepreneur, how he created schools for immigrant children, and that he’ll stand up to the NRA. As the first openly gay parent in Congress, Polis is also giving his son Caspian a starring role in his ads about his plan for universal, full-day pre-school and kindergarten.

Former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy showed the biggest fundraising haul of the past three months, bringing in $818,531, which is more, her campaign points out, “than any other gubernatorial candidate, Democratic or Republican, has raised in a reporting period this cycle.” Kennedy this week is still talking about how she’s trying to get her family “away from Donald Trump”— and his tweets— name-dropping him in the first five seconds of her new TV ad, which also goes hard on her support for public schools. She’s promoting a program she created to rebuild public schools, saying she wants to raise teacher pay, “stop teaching to the test,” and keep schools gun free.

Former Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston has the most money in the campaign bank out of anyone in the race— $838,400— though Polis has much more in his personal bank account. Johnston is using it this week to push a message of bridging political divides, a theme on which he launched his campaign. For voters wondering how the country ended up in such a divisive place, Johnston, says the bigger question for him is how we get out. Coloradans, he says, will do so together. (One supporter this week even got a letter to the editor in Vail Daily about it.) A Super PAC-style group supporting Johnston, we reported, has a whopping $3.8 million to spend. We’re waiting to see what the group does with it.

In second place with a fat campaign wallet is Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton who is rolling in $831,795 as of this week. His operation since winning a spot on the ballot in mid-April has been stealthy, and according to his campaign, the end of the legislative session ate up most of his time. On the “Latest” verticle of his gubernatorial campaign website, the most recent posting is from March 6.

Under new management…

Last in fundraising on the Democratic side is Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne who we reported this week has lost her campaign manager and her top consultant in the final stretch of the campaign, and is now under new management.

From our story:

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 told us 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.” Also: See where the candidates stand on the issues

Romney connection…

In the world of Republican Doug Robinson, the ex-investment banker and first-time candidate held a fundraiser with his uncle Mitt Romney at a home in Cherry Creek Village where about 100 people showed up, according to the campaign. Romney, who spoke for about 10 minutes, discussed the traits of the Romney family, and lessons learned from George Romney, who was governor of Michigan, according to a spokesperson. Romney “said the family has a characteristic stubbornness that makes them doggedly determined and able to get things done.”

Republican Greg Lopez, the former Parker mayor, restaurant owner, and only Hispanic and veteran in the race, campaigned at a Cinco de Mayo festival in Denver’s Civic Center Park where he allowed Colorado Public Radio to trail along. There, he told at least one voter that he wants concealed weapons reciprocity across state lines— similar to drivers’ licenses. Some Super PAC-style groups are spending big on the candidates. See who they are.

Speed dating…

Six out of the eight candidates for governor also met at New Terrain Brewing in Golden on Friday for five hours where they spent five minutes apiece with 10 voters. Eight were unaffiliated, one was a Democrat and one a Republican. The whole set-up was a form of candidate speed dating. “Based on our informal survey, most [voters] were fiscally moderate to conservative and most were socially moderate to liberal,” says anchor Kyle Clark whose KUSA 9News hosted and filmed the event.

According to Clark, at least two of those voters came in leaning toward a Democrat and left with “interest” or were “pleasantly surprised” by Republican Victor Mitchell, a businessman who served a term in the state legislature and is spending $3 million of his own money on the race. Mitchell’s campaign said unaffiliated voters he has met on the trail like the idea of an outsider businessman with a track record of getting things done. Reporter Brandon Rittiman says to keep an eye on the station’s media platforms to see where the footage will show up. Here’s one clip already up. Republicans Walker Stapleton and Doug Robinson missed the voter speed-dating session, their campaigns said, because of previously scheduled events. Read how the candidates answered our 20-question questionnaire

Some love for Lopez in El Paso County…

Speaking of speed dating, the four Republican candidates were allowed about 90 seconds to make their pitch to voters Saturday night during the El Paso County Lincoln Day dinner fundraiser at the Antlers hotel in Colorado Springs.

Walker Stapleton used part of his time not to set himself apart from his GOP rivals, but to look beyond the primary, attacking Jared Polis for his support of single-payer healthcare and his platform of getting Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040*. “I’m going to stop him in his tracks,” he said. Doug Robinson said “I think I’m the candidate that is best capable to withstand the attacks the Democrats are going to bring against us”— a jab at two of his GOP rivals. (See: Stapleton, Walker: DUI; Lopez, Greg: domestic violence.) Victor Mitchell sped through a litany of policy proposals including rolling back 100,000 pages of regulations on small businesses and said he isn’t accepting endorsements because they lead to “political patrons.” Greg Lopez said he’s tired of being called a “hater” because he’s a Republican. “My path to victory is simple: all we need to do is garner 15 percent more of the unaffiliated vote and the Hispanic vote,” he said.

In conversations with about two dozen of the Republican faithful there that night, nine told me they were still undecided in the race. Eight said they liked or were supporting Lopez and seven said the same about Stapleton. One woman, Sue Paradis, earlier had told me she was undecided but later said Lopez’s speech moved her enough to say she’d back him. “I detected honesty,” she said. “He’s more down to earth I think. I think a lot of Americans are so tired of polished politicians.”

‘Our community is not apathetic…’

As for the Democrats, all four spent time with members of the black community at Denver’s New Hope Baptist Church on Saturday for a forum set up by the NAACP Denver, Aurora NAACP-CO-MT-WY State Conference, Colorado Black Women for Political Action, and the Colorado Black Leadership Caucus.

Here’s this from coverage of it from ColoradoPolitics:

Jeff Fard, a longtime community advocate and host of  the Facebook live interview program, “30 Minutes with Brother Jeff,” said he has interviewed three out of the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates to date. Fard says he still undecided on who he will cast his vote for ultimately, but is excited that the black community and its supporters came out and is engaged in this process.

“The community is very concerned about who will represent the state of Colorado and the turnout is another indication that our community is not apathetic. If you give us something that we’re excited about, we will show up, but if you don’t have a platform we’re interested in, we vote with our feet, meaning we are not going to cast a ballot at all.”

But community activist Jumoke Emery felt at times the candidates weren’t connecting with attendees on a genuine level and may have failed to adequately prepare.

“We already know the water is wet and don’t need the statistics read back to us. The folks who have concrete platforms and policy plans are the ones who deserve our vote in this election,” Emery said.

And now, to the rankings…

Rounding out the week is our columnist Mike Littwin’s rankings where his panelists have Polis moving into the No. 1 slot for the Dems based on his $6 million bankroll, which we’ll note is twice what Kennedy earlier asked each Democrat to promise not to exceed in the primary. “Who wants to start the pool on how much money Polis puts into this race?” Littwin asks. For the Republicans, the panel has Stapleton in the lead because “the establishment is behind him and also, yes, Tom Tancredo.”

Upcoming public forums…

Want to see the candidates yourself?

On May 22, our managing editor Tina Griego will moderate a candidate’s forum about work and working families at East High School at 6 p.m. All the Democrats have committed except Polis who will be in Washington, D.C. and is sending a surrogate. Robinson and Stapleton declined, and we’re still waiting to hear from Mitchell and Lopez.

On May 31, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has invited each of the gubernatorial candidates to explain their plans for affordable housing, living wages, and the state budget. It’s free, but RSVP here because space is limited.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the year goal for a renewable energy plan.

Photo by Amanda Clarke. Republican Greg Lopez (left) at the April State GOP convention in Boulder. 


  1. Why the snarky digs at Jared Polis’ wealth, Mike? He earned it American Style but with a philanthropic flavor, using scads of it to set up schools for immigrant children and the time it freed up to go into public service. Check out his proposed educational plan for our state, check out his stand for civil rights for all (including women, which is downright refreshing even in this purple state). The man isn’t just a full wallet, he’s a progressive person of character and hard work. Cut the snark, okay?
    Amanda McNeill, Former CO State Senator, District 6

  2. He is a progressive person. I have him No. 1 in my rankings. But I’m a little uncomfortable when any candidate has that kind of spending advantage. A little snark won’t hurt. Thanks, Mike

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