Illustration by Mike Keefe
It’s Memorial Day weekend, which marks the pre-solstice beginning of summer and, not a moment too soon, the beginning of the end of the primary races for governor. Ballots go out next week. Election Day — which now actually means the last day of voting — is June 26.
When the ballots arrive, it will mark the day that many Coloradans give their first actual thought to the governor’s races. And it won’t be until the 26th that we will know how those first thoughts manifested themselves.
By then, we will have learned if money wins (Polis), if it’s the year of the woman, at least in the Democratic Party (Kennedy and, OK, Lynne if you insist), if the not-exactly-on-a-winning-streak Republican establishment gets its way (Stapleton), if money doesn’t necessarily win (Mitchell) or something entirely unexpected happens (the hope of all political reporters/pundits and, yes, a slim majority of the Littwin gov panel).
Until then, we’ve got work to do. The hot rumor — the very hot rumor — is that the PAC supporting Jared Polis, Bold Colorado, is considering going negative on Cary Kennedy. Rick Palacio, the former Democratic Party chair who heads the PAC, is out of town (I’ll let him break the good news why) and promises to be in touch next week. But the story — as I’ve heard it from several Democratic strategists — is that anti-Kennedy ads are being tested. By the way, other campaigns are surely doing similar testing on other candidates, possibly even on Polis.
If true, what this could mean:
- The Dem race might be closer than many people expect. As far as I know, the Polis campaign is the only one in the Democratic field polling to this point.
- It’s a gamble. As progressive panelist Ian Silverii points out, some social scientists believe progressives don’t react well to negativity. Something about “happy neurotransmitters.” George Lakoff wrote a whole book about it — The Political Mind. “See,” Silverii says, “hope and change vs. THERE’S A CRIME WAVE COMING FOR YOU RIGHT NOW.”
- GOP panelist Cinamon Watson says that’s just what the front-runner should be doing. “There is a reason campaigns go negative. It works. With the race tightening, Polis is smart to strike a blow or two at his opponents. He’s putting it all on the field – and, he should. There is no second place.”
- Dem panelist Alan Salazar says it’s a “legal fiction” that outside money is really “independent” and has no “wink-nod understanding with the candidate or campaign they are organized to support … So when the negative ads start flying, it will be pretty clear who winked and who nodded. What I will be interested in is whether the contrasts are legitimately based on differences on issues or whether they are more personal.”
- Hick might actually get involved. Salazar said the governor told him he will condemn any negative-ad campaign (you remember the shower ad, right?). Reagan had his 11th commandment about Republicans not speaking ill of fellow Republicans — just one of the many commandments Trump has broken. Salazar suggested to Hick that he should author a 12th commandment — “Thou shalt not pollute our democracy with negative ads.”
Without the benefit of polling, it’s hard to know much at this point, but it’s assumed that Polis is leading, that Kennedy is reasonably close, that Johnston is either “surging” (his word) or steadily moving up, that Lynne is still looking for a breakthrough.
Helen Thorpe, the very fine writer and, not incidentally, Hickenlooper’s ex-wife, wrote a friendly Facebook post chiding me for downplaying Lynne’s chances. She’s not alone. GOP panelist Josh Penry thinks Lynne has a chance if she takes on Polis. “Her message could give her a platform and a bona fide argument for her candidacy: Are we the party of Hickenlooper, a sort of sensible, pragmatic, can-do party focused on solving problems, or are we the party of Polis and Boulder, ideological, pissed-off at Trump, and not much concerned with a whole lot else?”
Of course, that’s the GOP message that it’s readying up for Polis if he’s the Democratic nominee. Penry is working on the theory that Dems are ready for another Hickenlooper term and not, as he termed it, “a neo-socialist.” Hick is so popular, Penry said, that he “got sun burn” just sitting three tables away from him at a recent dinner.
In Dem world, if the party has moved left, as we expect, that may not be the winning message. It’s clear that Mike Johnston is going after Polis on gun control — in fact, he already has — based on Polis’ now-infamous 2013 quote defending the right to own assault rifles. Polis is now co-sponsoring a ban. I would look to the upcoming 9News debates where I’m pretty sure Kyle Clark and Brandon Rittiman will, uh, explore this issue more. I’d also expect to see more exploration of the differences between teachers-union-backed Kennedy and ed-reform-backed Johnston on education and where Polis fits into that dynamic.
On the Republican side, we have a poll. It’s only covers the heavily-Republican 5th Congressional District (El Paso County), but still. The numbers come via Magellan Strategies, a respected pollster that was looking primarily at the Republican 5th CD primary, where Rep. Doug Lamborn is leading. For our purposes here at the gov panel the news is that Walker Stapleton is leading handily (32 percent), that Victor Mitchell’s money seems to be finally making some difference (18 percent), that Doug Robinson is still Mitt’s nephew (8 percent) and that Greg Lopez (8 percent) is still the former mayor of Parker. But maybe the key number from the poll — which, remember, does not reflect a statewide snapshot — is that 34 percent remain undecided, which is the only bad news for Stapleton.
Penry says the poll shows that “Vic’s huge spend is starting to put him on the radar. And I mean, thank God because that’s a freaking lot of money he’s spent. But the basic structure of the GOP primary hasn’t changed in six months: the presumption and basic gravity of the race is with Walker. Walker should definitely keep his gloves up in the debates.”
Again, look out for the 9News debates with Clark and Rittiman on the case. Stapleton has had his, uh, stumbles that his opponents haven’t seemed to figure out how to capitalize on. But I expect we’ll hear a lot about Stapleton’s big truth-challenged ad as well as his interview on, of all places, Fox News where he got hit hard for the lack of a serious gun-violence policy. And now the Indy’s Corey Hutchins has reported that Stapleton neglected to include his blind trust on a state-required financial disclosure form.
Silverii said he was shocked that “several news outlets called (Stapleton) a lying liar for his ad and yet no one decided to throw the punch. That’s weak.”
Watson, who has better things to say about Stapleton’s campaign, thinks there’s a trend here. She says: “No one has landed a single punch. At all. It doesn’t look as if anyone will.”
Oh, someone will. It’s an election. Eight candidates. Two winners. Someone will definitely throw and land some punches. Or else we may all fall asleep by the election.
Onto the final May rankings:
1. Walker Stapleton. He may have a problematic ad out there. He may have had a tough interview on Fox. But the polling shows he still has a healthy lead. And the headlines show that no one else on the Republican side is making any.
2. Victor Mitchell. His campaign ads may be, as panelist Silverii points out, “boring, unwatchable, unsharable,” but they’ve apparently pushed him ahead of Doug Robinson in the 5th CD, where 20 percent of the state’s GOP voters live.
2. Cary Kennedy. If Johnston goes even harder after Polis on guns — in debates or through his Bloomberg-supported PAC — who does it help more, him or Kennedy? Watson says: “It depends on how artful Johnston is in his attack.”
4. Donna Lynne. The question is not whether Lynne is an impressive person — she is — but whether she has the money to tell her story, whether she has a base to rely on, whether, for her anyway, there is enough time.
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.