Walker Stapleton, the two-term state treasurer and Bush family relative, and Greg Lopez, a former Parker mayor and longshot candidate, emerged from a seven-way Republican assembly in Boulder that delivered an devastating defeat to Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who managed only a fraction of the vote.
Cary Kennedy, the former state treasurer, won a convincing victory at the Democratic state assembly down the road in Broomfield, while five-term U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, the top spender and early favorite, also made the ballot, but by a narrow margin.
The top vote-getters secured the top line on the June 26 primary ballots and will join other candidates from each party who qualify through the petition process.
On the Democratic side, former state Sen. Mike Johnston made the ballot — and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne is expected to do the same — by collecting voter signatures. And on the Republican side, businessman Doug Robinson, the nephew of Mitt Romney, and former state Rep. Victor Mitchell, anticipate making the race by petition as well.
The assembly will provide the winners with a quick jolt of momentum for the final sprint, but the assembly votes — decided by a few thousand party diehards — often are an unreliable indicator of who will win the party nominations.
Democrats are looking to retain control of the office after the departure of term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, while Republicans are hoping to elect just the second GOP governor since 1975.
Republican contest marked by mud-slinging
Inside the Coors Events Center in Boulder, the Republican effort began with an ominous tone as Stapleton, the top fundraiser and poll leader, came under assault for his 2-decade-old criminal conviction and petition fraud in his attempt to qualify for the 2018 ballot.
Stapleton, who turns 44 on Sunday, qualified for the ballot a week ago through the petition process, but he removed his name just days before the assembly when he acknowledged a firm working for his campaign broke the law in how it collected voter signatures.
The withdrawal became a focal point as he attempted to deflect the controversy to his advantage. “There’s a one-word answer of why I’m here today: integrity,” said Stapleton, who, in a breathless speech, labeled himself a “common-sense Colorado conservative.”
Hours earlier, Coffman pivoted a speech about her tenure as attorney general to a blistering critique of Stapleton that mentioned his 1999 drunken-driving conviction from California and how the firm his campaign used to gather petition signatures hired felons. “It is the truth. It is documented. And you should look,” she said through a smattering of boos from the crowd.
Coffman defended her approach in an interview, saying that she too was the subject of many attacks. She contends that if Stapleton becomes the Republican nominee it will hurt the party’s chances. “The Democrats have all this — they have more than this — and it’s something we need to consider,” she said.
Stapleton took 43 percent of the vote, and Coffman won 6 percent. The surprise came from Lopez, who emerged from a pack of lesser-known candidates to win 32 percent, just above the 30 percent threshold needed to qualify for the ballot.
Lopez gave a rousing speech that praised President Donald Trump and focused on cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities that do not enforce federal immigration law. But he too came under anonymous attack in a flyer circulated among delegates about a 1993 criminal charge for domestic violence.
“I think what I did right was to talk about the future of Colorado,” said Lopez in an interview after the vote. “I think people understood that if we unite, we can definitely have a strong voice.”
Ezekiah Lujan, a 23-year-old delegate from Leadville, told Lopez it was the best speech he has heard delivered in the three state assemblies he has attended.
“He’s just a true conservative — everything he stood for, (supporting) farming and communities, everything just for the people.” Lujan said. “And I didn’t even know his name until he got up there to speak.”
— John Frank (@ByJohnFrank) April 14, 2018
In the other statewide races, Republicans picked state Rep. Justin Everett from a competitive field of four candidates for state treasurer; unopposed George Brauchler for attorney general; incumbent Wayne Williams for secretary of state; and Ken Montera for University of Colorado regent.
Justin Everett won 49% of the vote in the four-way race for @cologop for treasurer. Others fell short of 30%. Everett may face Polly Lawrence and Brian Watson (who both filed petitions) in the June 26 primary. #copolitics
— Jon Murray (@JonMurray) April 14, 2018
No surprises at Democratic Party assembly
A short distance east, at the FirstBank Center in Broomfield, where Democrats met, the contest appeared milder — and nearly devoid of attacks — in an atmosphere where delegates complained about having too many good candidates and rallying around the prospect of a “blue wave” in November.
— Jesse Aaron Paul (@JesseAPaul) April 14, 2018
Many party insiders were weighing voting choices based on their chances against Republicans in the general election.
“I thought I had everybody figured out before I came here,” said Kenneth Bloodworth, a delegate from Dolores. “We have an excess of qualified people.”
In the governor’s race, Kennedy bested Polis — who also made the ballot — by nearly double his share of support, 62 percent to 33 percent.
“We’ve been building momentum for this campaign,” Kennedy said amid a champagne toast with her staff after the results came down. “It’s growing all over the state, and today was just a wonderful result.”
Kennedy’s victory comes as her campaign is building momentum. But Polis is looking to blunt the impact with a $200,000-plus TV ad campaign that features President Barack Obama.
Polis, who also submitted signatures to qualify for the ballot, said he was thrilled with his results. When asked if delegates’ strong show of support for Kennedy meant there was more work for him to do, he brushed the question aside.
“Our focus was on getting our name on the ballot, which is always what it has been,” Polis said. “So I think we got it done in a way that excited our volunteers and our activists. We’ve collected more signatures than the number of people that even showed up for caucus. People are really reacting well to our message.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Erik Underwood failed to make the ballot, securing just 5 percent of the delegate vote.
Erik Underwood last to take stage for Dem gov nom. Commends the gubernatorial field for Dems. “This is what progress looks like in America” Then rips party for making race a “popularity contest” pic.twitter.com/awPyOIHT96
— John Aguilar (@abuvthefold) April 14, 2018
In the Democratic primary for Colorado attorney general, Phil Weiser — a former dean of the University of Colorado law school — topped state Rep. Joe Salazar, with 53 percent of delegate votes to Salazar’s 37 percent. Both are now on the ballot.
Former prosecutor Amy Padden received nearly 11 percent of the vote, meaning she will be on the ballot if her petition signatures are validated by the Colorado secretary of state.
In the state treasurer’s race, two candidates qualified: state Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, who won 52 percent of the vote, and Bernard Douthit, who received 32 percent.
Jena Griswold dominated the Democratic contest for Colorado secretary of state, and Lesley Smith was picked by Democrats as their at-large candidate for CU regent.
Jesse Paul and John Aguilar reported from Broomfield.