BOULDER — Twenty-four hours before polls close in Colorado, the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor spent the evening lobbing bombs at each other from the bunkers of their respective ideological and geographic bases.
Here in this college town, the state’s progressive epicenter and home to a local tax on sugary drinks and a ban on assault-style weapons, Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, who lives here, tagged his Republican opponent as a mini-me of the most controversial president in at least a generation.
“None of us want to wake up a day after the election and say but for one vote per precinct … we have a Donald Trump yes man as governor in our state,” he told a crowd of about 100 at the Rayback Collective bar and food hall in north-central Boulder. “So let’s all get to work in this final day to make sure that we leave no votes on the table.”
About 100 miles south-east, at an office park in El Paso County — a county with more Republican voters than anywhere else in the state, the birthplace of the national Libertarian Party, and home to five military installations and a network of religious nonprofits — Stapleton and his running mate Lang Sias breathed fire at Polis.
If the wealthy tech entrepreneur aimed to chain the sitting state treasurer to Trump and sink him in a state that went to Hillary Clinton by five points in 2016, Stapleton and Sias sought to bury Polis under the boogeyman of a democratic socialist from Vermont.
Speaking to a crowd of about 30 in a small war room in the local GOP’s victory headquarters on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, Sias, a Denver lawyer-lawmaker and former Navy pilot, referred to the Democratic nominee as “Bernie Polis” seven times in three minutes. He called a potential Polis election a “far, far left turn” for Colorado.
“Here’s what’s at stake,” Stapleton said, speaking after him, “I do not think that Colorado wants to elect a socialist as their next governor.”
While the candidates spent plenty of time likening each other to polarizing national political figures, they also pointed to their own specific policy contrasts.
Stapleton, a Bush family relative and scion of two powerful political families, supports the federal tax cuts championed by Trump while Polis wants to repeal them. Polis supports the state’s Obamacare exchange while Stapleton has said “it is not a question of if, but when, we have to get rid of the health care exchange.” Polis told his crowd as governor he would implement free preschool and kindergarten and a 100 percent renewable energy future for Colorado. Stapleton told his supporters he would lance administrative bloat in education and promised he wouldn’t have a “combative relationship” with the state’s oil-and-gas industry.
Stapleton reminded voters in the military-heavy county that Polis voted against this year’s Defense Authorization Act that included pay raises for troops and funds for Fort Carson. Polis accused Stapleton of wanting to throw “hundreds of thousands of Coloradans off their healthcare.”
At the bar in Boulder, Polis supporters oozed some optimism on the eve of an Election Day where Democrats hope a national blue wave crashes across the Rockies. Still, with ballot returns showing Democrats and Republicans neck and neck in the final days and Republicans leading in ballot returns Monday afternoon, Democrats hammered on the importance of turning out their base.
Polis’ running mate, former state Rep. Dianne Primavera, drove home the congressman’s support for “affordable, quality health care,” and recalled her own struggle to overcome breast cancer as a source of personal motivation to tackle the issue. She also noted at the importance of casting every ballot, citing her re-election bid for House District 33 during the 2010 red wave. Primavera said she, too, was ahead in the polls. She later lost by less than one point.
“I lost the race on election night by 200 votes,” she said.
Other high-ranking officials tagging along on the Polis bus stop urged supporters to tell their friends and family to make sure to cast their ballots.
“You need to leave Boulder. Or get on the phone. Call your friends,” said Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, recognizing that while the urban corridor of the Front Range is rich with Democratic votes, the candidates should reach out to voters everywhere.
There was also a reminder of the 2016 presidential election, an upset that stunned the professional pollsters and average voters alike. Polis supporters cited Trump’s policy on immigration and the appointment of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as one of their key concerns and a reason to vote.
“2016 kinda lit the fire,” said David Keir of Boulder, who dropped off his ballot on Monday.
Walking to their car in the dark, chilly parking lot of the Republican Party office building in the Springs, Julia and Charles McCollum said they already voted a straight GOP ticket.
Their motivation to vote in these midterms? “Maintaining what President Trump has begun,” Julia McCollum said. “Which I think would be turned back if Stapleton doesn’t win.”