This weekend’s stop in the long, weird and winding road toward the Republican Primary lived up to the reputation party insiders had long repeated: Anything can happen at state assembly.
And so it did, with State Treasurer Walker Stapleton — who wasn’t expected to even participate in Saturday’s assembly until days before — winning 43 percent of delegates to earn a spot on the June primary ballot.
But he wasn’t the day’s biggest surprise, or its second biggest.
The biggest came in the form of former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, who swayed enough delegates to pass the 30 percent threshold to join Stapleton on the ballot to suddenly become a contender.
Lopez’s victory was costly for Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. She had banked on a place on the ballot through the assembly process but failed to qualify. She did so in miserable fashion, earning just 6 percent of delegates. Lopez received 32 percent of votes, while Colorado Springs businessman Barry Farah, who ran intending to take votes from Coffman, earned 12 percent of votes.
“AG Coffman thanks the many Coloradans who she met these many months,” her campaign spokesperson Roger Hudson said in a statement. “She takes their stories with her and thanks them for their kind support.”
Stapleton’s win marks something of a comeback. Stapleton announced earlier this week he was abandoning his petition in the wake of a possible misconduct from the firm hired to collect his signatures. He had just a few days to prepare for the assembly and he delivered.
He said he made his decision to keep his integrity and character intact. He said he’s not worried about the petitions resurfacing in the campaign as an issue.
“I am ecstatic, obviously,” Stapleton said after the win. “Based on the week that I’ve had, I would have happily and gladly been happy with 30.1 percent. So I’m beyond ecstatic.”
Stapleton said he plans on spending the majority of Sunday, his birthday, in pajamas, before getting back to work on Monday.
Lopez said after the votes that he was “pleasantly surprised” by Saturday’s results. Lopez was congratulated by Stapleton while he spoke to Denverite.
The former Mayor of Parker delivered a strong speech, detailing the state’s history while alluding to the state’s future. He defined the election as “a battle of ideas and values.” Delegates responded well to his conservative message, which included stopping sanctuary cities, stopping Colorado from becoming “the ugly twin sister of California” and adding that he was “tired of losing” when referencing how no Republican governor has been elected in the state in several years. People were lining up to greet him on the Coors Events Center floor following his victory.
“I think what I did right was talk about the future of Colorado,” Lopez said. “Talk about what we all care about, right, and that there’s 64 counties. It’s not about just the urban corridor. There’s things that we as Americans care about.”
Lopez said he felt good going in, but he was aware that people didn’t know him or had heard about him.
“We just got to make sure that we finish today,” Lopez said. “That we finish the day. And clearly the people told me today, you finished the day now let’s move forward to tomorrow.”
There were 2,951 eligible delegates on Saturday, which included 2,847 delegates and 104 alternate delegates were elevated to participate (219 alternate delegates showed up). But as was evident during the first vote of the afternoon, several delegates didn’t stick around for the voting process, with some 400 votes missing. Only 2,567 delegates voted in the governor’s ballot, results showed.
There were some issues with the check-in process that needed to be resolved, including some delegates who were elected and paid fees who did not appear in the delegate list. There were also parking concerns resulting from a rugby game at nearby fields and that caused delays for delegate sign-ins.
Seven candidates were nominated, including (in order of speaking appearance) Steve Barlock, Walker Stapleton, Barry Farah, Cynthia Coffman, Greg Lopez, Lew Gaiter and Teri Kear.
Stapleton and Lopez could be joined by two other Republican gubernatorial candidates on the primary ballot. Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson are trying to petition onto the ballot and are awaiting the verification of their petitions.
Coffman’s candidacy collapsed in the spotlight — and in the crosshairs of several opponents.
She seemed like a sure thing as the largest name in the field taking the assembly route only a week ago.
While Farah, who told Denverite he entered the race to defeat Coffman, earned more delegates than her, Stapleton’s last-second inclusion was more costly for Coffman. She went on the offensive against him early, and it backfired.
One of the more immediate causes for her loss may have been a remark she made while addressing delegates as attorney general (she was able to address them as candidate too). She alluded to Stapleton’s petition fiasco, slamming him for using “convicted felons” to gather signatures. That quip didn’t go over well; there were groans and boos from the audience. Her speech as candidate didn’t generate much enthusiasm.
But events away from the dais, too, presented challenges for Coffman. Activist, former state representative and photog kicker Doug Bruce handed out anti-Coffman flyers at the start of the assembly.
The pink fliers included personal attacks against Coffman and criticized her stance on TABOR and her support for gay rights. The stunt earned him a conversation with police, who took him aside. (He later claimed he was unlawfully detained.)
There was other anti-Coffman literature at the assembly.
Sen. Cory Gardner was a popular guy at the assembly.
A day after announcing he had secured a deal with President Donald Trump to keep the federal government from messing with Colorado’s recreational marijuana industry, Gardner was the first high-profile speaker to address Republicans on Saturday. He was popular among delegates, guests and even other candidates, who kept requesting photos and selfies with the senator.
He thanked delegates for coming out in vote during a weekend they could have spent with family; Gardner himself brought his family to the stage. U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, Ken Buck and Mike Coffman also spoke.
In Gardner’s view, Republicans are winning. He mentioned another Coloradan, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, legislation passed by Republicans in Washington and other judicial appointees as examples of how the GOP has progressed under Trump.
“We are winning because we passed the largest tax cuts in over three decades,” Gardner said. “We’re winning because we’ve cut over $60 billion worth of regulations.”
There’s plenty of work left to do, Gardner said. After all, the state could reach 20 years without a Republican governor.
“Will we let that happen?” Gardner asked, receiving a resounding “No!” from the crowd. “Will we let them take back the state senate? (No!) Will we win the state house? (Yes!) Are we going to keep the majority in the House of Representatives? (Yes!)”
Gardner repeated his refrain, punctuating each word, once more before finishing: The party is going to win, win and win some more.
“It’s because of Colorado Republicans like you who are here to do it,” Gardner said. “Let’s get it done.”
One last note: Clicker concern appears to have been unfounded.
Several people (it’s unclear who they were affiliated with) handed out a sheet suggesting there were plans to “disrupt” the balloting process for gubernatorial candidates. It was penned by a “Concerned Citizen” and it said a candidate who wasn’t running at the assembly was plotting to nominate straw candidates to increase the candidate total to 10. This would, the letter claim, make it impossible to use the balloting clickers.
No such thing happened. Though, during a test of the clickers, we got some insight over how knowledgeable delegates were about the state’s highest peak.