Election 2018

Parties look for front-runners to emerge in crowded gubernatorial race

Some big names who left race would have been among favorites for governor

Posted 2/19/18

Former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo — known for his hardline stance against illegal immigration — was shaping up to be the GOP front-runner for this year’s governor’s race, some …

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Election 2018

Parties look for front-runners to emerge in crowded gubernatorial race

Some big names who left race would have been among favorites for governor

Posted

Former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo — known for his hardline stance against illegal immigration — was shaping up to be the GOP front-runner for this year’s governor’s race, some pundits believe.

Then, Tancredo dropped out of the race Jan. 30 due to lower-than-desired fundraising.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder — who pushes for Colorado to transition to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2040 — has emerged as a favorite, according to some pundits and polling.

Polis and former state Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, are leading the Democrats’ in campaign donations with about $1.5 million each. On the Republican side, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton held the top fundraising spot with about $1 million.

But in a packed field, the path to the nomination isn’t plowed clear.

Joe Webb, Jefferson County Republican Party chair, said after Tancredo’s exit, Stapleton, a second-cousin of former President George W. Bush, appears to have the top spot on the GOP side.

“Followed by Victor Mitchell and maybe (state Attorney General) Cynthia Coffman,” Webb said.

In Webb’s analysis, Stapleton, Coffman, former state Rep. Mitchell, who is a businessman from Castle Rock, and Doug Robinson — Mitt Romney’s nephew — would have petitioned to be candidates on the ballot rather than try to beat Tancredo for the traditional party assembly vote, the state counterpart to the national party conventions that select presidential nominees.

“Everyone expected him to overwhelmingly win the assembly,” Webb said. “The fact that (he dropped out) means the assembly is up for grabs in a big, big way.

“Somebody’s gonna have to fill the void that Tancredo supporters had.”

Tancredo set up a potential split in the party, according to Webb.

That Tancredo was willing to get out of the race when he was a front-runner was a “selfless act” to ensure the nominee wouldn’t repel some Republican voters in the general election, Webb said, but he also knows 50 or 60 people who left the GOP and came back to the party because Tancredo was the nominee.

For Democrats, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Arvada would have been a top contender before he dropped out of the race, said Eric Sondermann, a Colorado political analyst who founded the Denver communications agency SE2, which does marketing related to public policy and opinion. George Brauchler, the 18th Judicial District Attorney in counties south of Denver, could have been a top GOP name, Sondermann said, but he pulled out too, opting to run for state attorney general.

“I’ve never seen a race quite so fluid, in which top-tier candidates literally drop like flies,” Sondermann said.

Polis is expected to be a finalist, but former Colorado state Treasurer Cary Kennedy could put up a fight, as well as Johnston, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and manufacturing businessman Noel Ginsburg, Sondermann said. On the Republican side, Stapleton won’t win “without a fair degree of sweat,” he added.

“Coffman seems to be well positioned,” but she hasn’t surrounded herself with a top-notch campaign team, Sondermann said. “So no one can quite figure out Coffman’s campaign at this time.”

Mitchell has the ability to self-fund his campaign, like Polis could, making him a contender, Sondermann said. Robinson is a “very credible businessman, but he may be too moderate in a very conservative party,” he added.

The GOP around the nation is currently a staunchly anti-establishment, President Donald Trump-driven group, Sondermann said.

“I think Democratic turnout in these primaries is going to be significantly higher than GOP turnout,” Sondermann said.

Six of the last 10 governors, dating back to 1951, have been Democrats. The state’s next governor will replace Democrat John Hickenlooper, who has reached his two-term limit.

In 2016, Colorado voted for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Trump by about five points, even as Trump won the country, Sonderman noted. He hasn’t seen anything that suggests it’s more favorable to Trump or those aligned with him than it was in 2016.

“Colorado has been becoming a light-blue state,” Sondermann said, “but 2018 could potentially be a deep-blue year.”

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