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

The question now for the Littwin gov panel and everyone else in Colorado — and the one we’ll keep asking until June 26, the last day of voting — is whether the front runners in either party can possibly be caught.

I’m going to go with a yeah, sure, maybe, I don’t know, because, otherwise, why would you keep reading?

Gov panelist and GOP strategist Josh Penry can’t help but think that “with ballots now on kitchen tables, the fundamental arc is unchanged. This is shaping up to be Walker v. Polis.”

He’s probably right, but that’s why they play the games. I mean, all things are possible these days now that Sen. Cory Gardner is co-sponsoring a pot bill with Elizabeth Warren, upon which some wise guy (OK, it was me) tweeted: “Am I high or what?”

So I’ll start the discussion by saying I think Cary Kennedy — who is trailing Jared Polis by a weighty 13 points in a recent Magellan Strategies poll (paid for, interestingly, by a Texas energy analysis firm, Magelllan’s CEO David Flaherty tells me) — is in better shape than Victor Mitchell in his run at Walker Stapleton, but we’ll have a better idea when Magellan comes out soon with its Republican poll.

Which isn’t to say Kennedy is in great shape. Her supporting PAC’s negative ad against Polis allows him to play the victim role, which is new territory for him. And Polis’s money advantage — he has already spent a staggering $10.5 million of his own money, all of it legal — makes a mockery of campaign funding rules, which, to cite the now discredited master, are already a travesty of a mockery of a sham.

Polis and the PAC supporting Polis now have ads up attacking Kennedy for attacking him. Both Polis and Kennedy have complained to state Dem chair Morgan Carroll about negative ads, as if either side expected anything different in the home stretch, and so it’s the usual late-season mashup. If there’s a Kennedy advantage, it’s that the fight — over teachers and education — is being played on Kennedy’s home turf. If she’s going to be in a war with Polis, that’s where she wants to fight it.

And there’s the most critical number in the poll: Thirty-nine percent of the people Magellan polled — 503 Democrats and likely Democratic-voting unaffiliateds — said they were undecided. That’s a huge number, particularly given how much money has been spent on look-at-me TV ads. Flaherty said he would have expected no more than 20 percent undecided at this stage of the race. So that represents an opportunity for trailing Dems.

Meanwhile, women have been winning Dem primaries across the country — Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman says women have won 59 of 84 Dem primaries in which there were at least one man, one woman and no incumbent. And, notably, (hat tip to Dem strategist Steve Welchert) there was no gender gap in the Magellan poll. Both men and women were polling nearly equally for both Polis and Kennedy, which may suggest the pollsters missed something.

Progressive panelist Ian Silverii says the women’s wave in this election cycle is real and notes that “If the 39% undecideds, 41% of which are women, start to consolidate behind Cary, that could be the boost she needs to get over the plurality line and win the primary. If I were Kennedy’s team, I would set all of my targeting to women, or as much of it as practicable, and hammer home that Cary would be the first woman governor in Colorado, a glass ceiling that’s been intact for far too long.”

Penry, meanwhile, makes the case for why Polis will be so hard to catch: “This is an interesting test for Democratic primary voters. Polis isn’t the most eloquent or inspirational candidate. That’s Johnston, whose latest ad — very simply him to camera – is one of the best I have seen in a long, long time. And I think he won the debates handily too. He isn’t the most qualified. That’s probably Donna Lynne, an accomplished CEO and effective light guv. And he isn’t the most in line with the progressive grassroots. That’s clearly Cary who’s really run a smart and tough primary campaign. The only thing that Jared Polis is able to do, that the others aren’t, is write a $10 million personal check.”

The panelists, by the way, are united in their belief that Johnston has easily been the Dem debate winner and that, if you believe the polling, it hasn’t seemed to do him much good, despite the fact that Kennedy seemed quite flat in that 9News debate.

And then there’s Vic Mitchell v. Walker Stumbleton. (OK, I did it. A friend told that me if Trump were in this race, Stumbleton is what he’d be calling Stapleton.) It’s GOP eminence Dick Wadhams, who’s not supporting anyone, who keeps wondering aloud about Stapleton’s stumbles and whether he’s ready to be a general election candidate.

If you watched the 9News debate Thursday night, you saw Stapleton’s problem. Moderator Kyle Clark hit Stapleton with an array of tough questions, castigating him for skipping earlier debates and trying hard, really hard, to get Stapleton to answer the question he was being asked.

Stapleton’s worst debate moment came when Clark asked him whether he learned anything from his blatant error in a TV ad claiming that he was the only state treasurer to have supported Trump’s tax cut. His answer, “No, no, I actually have not.” And then went on to say it didn’t matter if he was the first to support the bill, although he didn’t actually say he was the first in the ad, he said he was the only. Clark told him it was easy enough to check and that when he called other Republican state treasurers, they were laughing at the claim – and maybe at him. I’m laughing that Stapleton said he hadn’t learned anything by his ad mistake. I wonder if he learned anything from the debate answer.

The problem for Mitchell (and also for Doug Robinson, who seems to be slipping, slipping out of contention) is that neither did their share in hitting Stapleton during the debate, which pretty much sums up the race. Both hit him hard in the earlier debate this week, when Stapleton wasn’t there to defend himself, which may not be the same thing.

Mitchell does have three ads, one funny, that do hit Stapleton — for being related to the Bushes, who didn’t support Trump, and for being a blue-blood while he’s an outsider (who was once a state representative, although he hates when anyone says that). The question is whether they’re working.

Dem strategist and gov panelist Alan Salazar think they have “drawn blood, albeit in a weird way. It speaks volumes about how distorted Republican politics has become when it’s acceptable to attack your opponent for being too close to the Bush family.  As if being a Stapleton was not already an unfair burden … Irony apparently is not a strong suit for Mitchell whose Bush ad tries to make Stapleton look disloyal to Trump, when it was Mitchell, not Stapleton, who voted against Trump in 2016. The country club ad is also ironic coming from a self-funder.  Must make Walker’s blood boil.”

Gov panelist and GOP strategist Cinamon Watson likes Mitchell’s ads and thinks Stapleton’s misplays have been overplayed. “Victor Mitchell has spent a lot of money – enough to make it a two-man race but not enough to beat Walker,” she says. “His latest ad – kind of a Beavis and Butthead tennis match – is funny but it won’t make a mark.”

If it doesn’t scrape the end line at least, that would be bad news for Mitchell.

And so, onto the rankings:


1. Walker Stapleton. Until I see real evidence that someone is catching up to him, I’ve got him in the lead. Republicans have nominated some really bad candidates of late, and Stapleton, despite stumbles, despite my Stumbleton, despite Wadhams’ warnings, still seems like the safest choice.

2. Victor Mitchell. The panel think it’s a two-person race, and I think it’s a two-person race, so if Mitchell doesn’t get an up arrow, who does? The Magellan poll may tell us whether the arrow lasts more than a week.

3. Doug Robinson. I’ll just come out and say it. He had a completely forgettable 9News debate, which is not how most experts recommend entering the home stretch.

4. Greg Lopez. He’s running a Darryl Glenn style campaign, traveling the state which, if you haven’t heard, has 64 counties. He also had his deep-state moment in the 9News debate, which you must see. He’s fourth, but I’m going to predict he finishes third. We’ll see if the other panelists come around.


1. Jared PolisIf the Magellan poll is right, he’s got a 13-point lead with ballots having arrived. He’s hammering Kennedy for her PAC’s negative ad, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s working. What isn’t working, if you believe the poll, is that with $10 million spent, there were still 40 percent undecided.

2. Cary KennedyIn the poll, she is leading Polis among unaffiliated voters. And I have to think the lack of a gender gap may mean the poll is off, at least a little. And then there’s the whole margin-of-error thing, which is about four percentage points in this poll. So, maybe it’s not 13 points. But she’s probably still behind.

3.  Mike Johnston. His debates are good. His ads are good. So why isn’t he doing better? Is it simply SB191 — the bill linking teacher evaluations to student testing — or is it something else?

4. Donna LynneIn the recent 9News debate, Lynne says she was the only adult in the room, the only one not squabbling. It’s the Hickenlooper play, minus the shower ad.


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. On the Dem. Governor race: I’m hoping that the polling is incorrect. If I were going to run a negative ad against Jared Polis, it would be regarding his blatant use of people for his own personal gain. He uses his considerable wealth to buy what he wants–this time it is the governorship. The last time, there was a petition that he paid for regarding oil & gas because he was upset with how close to his property some drilling was going to take place. Many hours of volunteer time and effort went into getting signatures on the petition to get it onto the ballot. While that was occurring he was doing behind the scenes negotiating for HIMSELF. He struck an agreement for HIMSELF and, because he had paid for it, pulled the petition at the eleventh hour despite the fact that it had well-over the amount of signatures needed. Total betrayal of literally thousands of people.

  2. From my experience calling and canvassing over the last couple of months, there are a majority of even regular/reliable Democratic voters who are just now starting to pay attention to this race.
    Name familiarity was most important early, but now people are actually reading, looking and watching. And minds are changing all the time. A lot of voters are wanting to have a candidate who can connect to all parts of the state, not just the I-25 corridor. And they are very intrigued by Mike Johnston.

  3. Greg Lopez won the conservative summit straw poll. The largest gathering of conservatives outside of Washington, And he won.

    I think that tells you what you need to k ow. The Magellan poll is not a good predictor of what is going to happen. Greg is going to be the one on the General ballot.

    Mitchell is prone to getting “unhinged” as evidenced by his remark during the 9 news debate where he said “I don’t like the tenor of the conversation right now” in response to the question about his attack ad.

    Neither Mitchell or Stapleton will keep their cool, And they will lose the election. Their ads will get more and more personal.

    Robinson is not viable, ad you correctly called it.

    I’d rank it:

    Stapleton: down arrow. He won the Magellan poll, sure, but his showing at the debate and his loss at the conservative summit show he peaked.

    Mitchell: up arrow. He’s got the moment. He needs, but is running ineffective ads at best and nasty ads at worst.

    Robinson: down arrow. He’s polling in the single digits consistently.

    Lopez: up arrow. Stayed out of the fighting, won the conservative summit straw poll, And has been courting rural Colorado aggressively while Stapleton has largely ignored it.

  4. Polis is a generous entrepreneur and is an effective education activist, but he isn’t a viable general election candidate. And if we lose the gov-ship because of his lack of cred to Stapleton kkk, Colorado’s original public schools and open public lands will be sold off to corrupt charters and corrupt oil men and corrupt timber women.

    Be aware, too, that Johnston is sincere and has experience, he is hardly a progressive teacher. His time in TFA (Teach for America) HARDLY compares to a veteran teacher in Colorado who busted his/her/their chops to get advanced degrees and full CDE credentials and gave twenty-plus years to improve his/her/their work with young people. (Only to have all retirement promises broken).

    Hardly comparable. Don’t be suckered by his claims.

    More, TFA is a Koch-backed ploy to erode the consistency of a child’s education in urban school districts by temporarily attracting young teachers (with “high” salaries) and driving out experienced teachers (with no promise to earn more). The young teachers get their feet wet (and get ripped off by the way when their grants get flipped to loans, thanks Betsy DeVos) then leave for the suburbs where the kids are “brighter” and the pay is “better.” Mhm. Brighter and better. That’s code, you know. Result: a group of schools whose residual TFA temporary teachers aren’t loyal to the community, a weakened school system, a short-changed community. This is what Mike Johnston experienced in “the classroom” and what he will elevate in Colorado’s classrooms. IMHO.

    Don’t be naive: it takes real money to educate a child, not an allowance.

    And It takes money to take money. Voters should know that Johnston’s (and undoubtedly Stapleton’s) campaign is funded in part by wealthy billionaires who want to destroy public employee pensions. Whitman. Arnold. Jobs. Others. It takes their vast money to take the teachers’ last money. If you agree that a good teacher who stays, is best for your child, there you go. Avoid TFA schools and avoid MJ.

    So. So. Polis isn’t viable in the General, and Johnston’ education platform has crumbled.

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