I know we’ve been calling it the home stretch for a couple of weeks here at the Littwin gov rankings home base. But now we mean it. This is it. The ballots are streaming in. Unaffiliated voters are participating at a better than expected rate. John Hickenlooper is still playing referee. And if you’re brave enough to keep watching commercial TV — personally, after the NBA playoffs, I opted out to binge-watch Killing Eve (it’s great, by the way) — the campaign ads are no doubt crushing your soul.
I’m already starting to feel a wee bit nostalgic for a race that isn’t even over (check out my opus on the state of the Dem race and how the civil war never made it to Colorado), but the panel is raring to go.
So let’s get to the negative-ad thing, which is probably the most overblown piece of the race. The reason we keep talking about it is that so few issues have taken hold on either side. I mean we’re still wondering why Walker Stapleton wouldn’t apologize for saying in a campaign ad he was the “only” state treasurer to have supported the Trump tax plan when, presumably, nearly all of them did. Kyle Clark told Stapleton that the other state treasurers were laughing at him. Maybe that’s because Stapleton is still running the absurd ad.
But the latest is that Hickenlooper, who publicly chastised Kennedy’s supporting PAC for running a negative ad, is now chastising Polis for running an attack ad quoting him as chastising Kennedy. What did Hickenlooper think would happen — that Polis wouldn’t grab at the chance?
As all-star gov panelist and former top Hick aide Alan Salazar put it: “Now Johnston can use Hick being disappointed by Jared attacking Cary for disappointing Hick for attacking Jared and the world goes round and round….”
Panelist Josh Penry wishes Hick would quit it: “There aren’t many Republicans who like Hick more than me, but his little sanctimony routine is a massive Christmas present to Jared Polis… Hick’s finger wagging, which has effectively taken all of Jared Polis’ liabilities off the table in the primary, is a godsend for the Boulder congressman and a likely death knell for the others.”
And now, in the latest twist, Kennedy’s team is asking Polis to take down his negative ads, saying that the Teachers for Kennedy PAC ads are no longer on the air. And Polis’s team replied that the ads are still up and that they have the screen-shots to prove it. So there’s that.
The other big story is the unaffiliated voters, which are breaking so far, but it’s still early. I don’t know how much difference they’ll make in either primary, particularly if the polls showing Polis and Stapleton with healthy leads are right. But, as panelist Cinamon Watson says, the real importance may come in November.
“They will make a difference,” she said. “The work candidates have done in the primary to convince these voters and turn them out at the polls will have an impact in the general.”
I say the unaffiliateds were exceeding expectations, but that’s because some pundits were saying they wouldn’t hit 10 percent. Panelist Ian Silverii says to this point, they’re “not exactly” pulling their weight, given that they’re slightly more than a third of the voting population. But that’s a lot of weight if you are, by definition, unaffiliated.
“Odds are the unaffiliated percentage will tick up,” Silverii says, “and it’s too early to tell if they’re just confused as a bloc, or defy description because they are not a bloc, but the way this is going, I’m not counting on them to break even 25% of the final primary electorate.”
On the other hand, Penry says he is mildly stunned by the number of unaffiliated voters who have participated so far. “With 60,000 independent voters having cast ballots during the first week of the first year of the new law, it’s pretty clear that the change voters made last year is a lot more than mere symbolism,” he says. “Open primaries are going to play a significant role in shaping primaries in the future, and even in a significant and surprising way this first year.”
The easy and obvious guess, though, is that the races will be decided more by the undecideds than the unaffiliateds. The polling has Polis and Stapleton each up by 13 points, but the undecided vote is 39 percent among Democrats and 27 percent among Republicans..
Vic Mitchell is hitting Stapleton hard with his ads and seems to have been rewarded. He has separated himself from the pack. I ask the panelists which candidates might do better than the polls are suggesting. It was pretty unanimous that Lopez and Johnston were the mostly likely to improve on their numbers, coming from near the back of the pack. I agree in both cases.
Most surprising to me is that the trailing Dems haven’t tried to help themselves by hitting Polis for spending $10.5 million of his own money so far on the race, a number that is both astonishing and predictable and will continue to dramatically rise. Is it going negative to say that the amount of money distorts the race? My guess is that Democratic voters are put off by the idea of someone trying to buy the race, which is an easy charge to make (and one, by the way, that Polis is practiced at refuting).
Silverii thinks that the charge would backfire. “Johnston can’t talk about money because it brings up questions about where his is coming from (a lot of people who live in states that end in -fornia and -ork), and Cary can’t talk about money because then people will ask her how much she has and why isn’t it more. Same for Donna, quite frankly.”
But Salazar has a different take. His guess is that it doesn’t poll well, but that occasionally candidates have to ignore the polls.
“My best guess is that their polling shows this does not ‘pop’ as a fruitful line of attack. An example of conventional poll-driven tactics likely missing something voters could be persuaded to care about if it surfaced as a line of attack,” Salazar says, “Instead of looking for the issue to ‘pop’ – make it ‘pop.’”
Watson says she’s surprised, too. “But you can bet,” she says, assuming Polis wins the primary, “it will come up in the fall.”
And now onto the second-to-last rankings before the June 26 primary:
1. Walker Stapleton. Many people (OK, mainly Dick Wadhams) are underwhelmed by Stapleton’s performance so far, which is why someone started calling him Stumbleton. He hasn’t shown well in the debates, or at least the ones he hasn’t skipped. But I don’t know of anyone, in Politico World at least, who doesn’t think he’s winning.
2. Victor Mitchell. The polls show he has separated himself from the pack, but still trailing Stapleton significantly. But if Lopez is, in fact, gaining, who’s he taking votes from — Stapleton or Mitchell?
4. Doug Robinson. Penry says he knows a lot of “very smart, informed” people who have voted for Robinson. Maybe that’s the problem. Can you win only with smart and informed people? Magellan Strategies has him polling at 4 percent.
1. Jared Polis. According to the polls, he seems to have withstood the negative ads on vouchers, probably with inadvertent help from Hickenlooper. And if people aren’t just sick of seeing his face so often on TV, he has to be the clear favorite in the stretch run.
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.