Mike Littwin: Ranking the current state of Colorado governor’s race
Fair & Unbalanced
The big story in the governor’s race is probably not going to change anything, but it’s the best we can do here at the Littwin Unofficial Official governor rankings for this week’s just-waiting-for-the-assemblies-to-finally-get-here edition.
As you may have heard, Rep. Doug Lamborn’s petitions have been attacked for possibly using ineligible collectors to gather the signatures. This looks like it could be serious, and Lamborn, who always faces a primary challenge, has got a serious one this year in the 5th Congressional District. Owen Hill, Darryl Glenn, anyone else with a pulse.
You may be wondering how this might connect to the governor’s race. Well, Lamborn used Kennedy Enterprises to collect signatures and so did Walker Stapleton. Doug Robinson, also running for governor, has already questioned Stapleton’s collection methodology. And there you go.
On Friday, it was announced that Stapleton had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot — but just barely. Of 19,124 signatures he submitted, nearly 8,000 were dismissed. You need a minimum of 10,500 — 1,500 from each congressional district — and Stapleton had only 11,325. I guarantee there will be challenges to his signatures. And there are still four candidates — two from each party — awaiting word on their petitions.
You may remember 2016 when ballot challenges, along with his big dog, killed front runner Jon Keyser’s shot at the GOP U.S. Senate nomination. Then, of course, there were the other candidates who had to sue their way onto the ballot. A 2016 redux is not the way Republicans want to go.
Panelist Alan Salazar said the “kerfuffle” (among my favorite words) is “the kind of squabble politicos and pundits love, but most normal human beings (voters or not) probably view it as an eye-roller.” Cinamon Watson goes with “much ado about nothing,” but there is the subtext that the Republican Party in Colorado seems to be in disarray, and if this goes anywhere at all, it might just reinforce that.
Watson noted this as we’re a week from the assembly: “As a GOP state delegate, I have received a single robo call from one governor’s candidate and no mail. I’m not complaining — by all means, save some trees and don’t fill my inbox — but that leaves many delegates waiting to choose their candidate based on Assembly speeches and the dazzling displays of campaign t-shirts.”
On the Democrat’s side, Jared Polis is the unanimous front-runner. Cary Kennedy has all the buzz. So what does that mean for Mike Johnston — still a solid third — and Donna Lynne, who is a distant, distant fourth?
Panelist Josh Penry thinks Lynne has to go all in, and with a better defined case for the voters, as soon as the Democrat’s assembly ends: “She can’t hoard her money and wait until May. She needs to go. And even if she launches a broad front and powerful case for herself, you know, next Monday, she still has an awfully steep hill to climb in a race that has already taken on significant structure.”
Panelist Salazar agrees. He thinks Johnston and Lynne are more naturally general-election candidates, and they need to explain how that translates into a primary run. “Anything that creates higher visibility (paid or earned media) seems critical now for both.”
Next week, we’ll do an assembly preview. Until then, here are the Littwin Week Two rankings:
1. Jared Polis. There is little correlation between winning at the assembly (Polis at around 33 percent to Kennedy’s 60 percent) and winning the primary. Do the Google if you don’t believe me. He’s still the front-runner. The panel is unanimous on that.
2. Cary Kennedy. Winners at the assembly do get headlines, and if the goal for Kennedy is to make this a two-person race, this is a good way to get there. She assures me she’ll have the money — if not as much as Polis — needed for the TV ad push in May and June.
3. Mike Johnston. Asked him about a two-way race and he joked, “Me and who else?” A Dem politico who’s supporting Johnston tells me he worries Johnston is being perceived as No. 3 and wonders whether he needs to spend some money on TV now to get him back in the conversation. That $1 million Bloomberg check could help.
4. Donna Lynne. Don’t be surprised if you hear her mention Hickenlooper less often. She’s not going to win with the promise of being the next Hickenlooper, whose popularity rests less on his ideas than it does on his being Hickenlooper.
5. Erik Underwood. I left him out of the poll last week because, well, no one thinks he has any chance. But he thinks that’s unfair, so here he is. We’re even giving him a charitable up arrow. Underwood promises to make the kind of speech never heard before at the assembly. A rousing speech worked in the Republican assembly in 2016 for Darryl Glenn. But unless Kennedy and Polis are wrong, they have too many delegates pledged for any kind of speech to get Underwood to 30 percent.
1. Walker Stapleton. He’s the front-runner because he has money, name recognition and nobody else has made a real move. The attacks on him have not stuck at all, possibly because they’re not very strong attacks, and possibly because there’s so little media covering the race. And because panelist Penry says, he “keeps his head down” and keeps “grinding along.”
2. Cynthia Coffman. We’re a week away from the assembly, where Coffman has to make a big showing. First she has to show the delegates why they should vote for her. To this point, she has made it perfectly unclear where she stands on gay rights and abortion. As panelist Watson puts it: “Coffman has significantly stepped up her campaign appearances. Take a look at her social media – wherever delegates are gathered, she’s there. Now, if she could just couple that with message discipline…”
3. Doug Robinson. That Robinson is third shows just how much space there is between the top two candidates and everyone else. I moved him up because at least he understands he can’t win without bringing Stapleton back to the pack. Panelist Salazar called Robinson’s shot at Stapleton “ankle nibbling.”
4. Victor Mitchell. He’s out with an introductory ad. Unfortunately, as Salazar put it, “There are certainly better ways to capitalize on being an underdog without doubling down on it by saying you can only attract stray dogs to listen to what you have to say.” I voted Mitchell fifth for the ad, but the panel gave him the fourth slot.
5. Barry Farah. He got into the race with a big splash. Now the real challenge is whether he can show he can swim.
Panelists: Alan Salazar, Josh Penry, Cinamon Watson and a Dem strategist to be named later. Oh, and of course, me.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.