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

Mike Littwin
Fair and Unbalanced

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.”

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’ 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.

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 percent undecideds, 41 percent 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.

The problem for Mitchell (and also for Doug Robinson, who seems to be slipping out of contention) is that he didn’t do his share in hitting Stapleton during the debate, which pretty much sums up the race.

Mitchell does have three ads, one funny, that do hit Stapleton. The question is whether they’re working.

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 thinks it’s a two-person race, and I think it’s a two-person race. The Magellan poll may tell us whether he stays in this position 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.


1. Jared Polis. If 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 Kennedy. In 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 Lynne. In 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.

Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for