Here’s what you need to know ahead of next month’s (wide open) primary election in Colorado

You get to vote, and you get to vote, and yes, even YOU get to vote.
11 min. read
Colorado gubernatorial candidates Jared Polis (clockwise from top right), Cary Kennedy, Victor MItchell and Walker Stapleton. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Colorado gubernatorial candidates Victor Mitchell (left to right) Greg Lopez, Mike Johnston, Donna Lynne and surrogate for Jared Polis, Courtney Krause, get situated for a panel during Colorado State University's Water in the West Summit at the McNichols Building, April 26, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

We’re less than a month away from the primary election in Colorado. So I’m going to do my best Oprah impression and tell you that you get to vote, and you get to vote, and yes, even YOU get to vote.

That’s because this year, unaffiliated voters — all 1.2 million of them — will be able to participate in either the Democratic or Republican primary on June 26 for the first time in the state’s history. All primary ballots will be mailed out in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out on mail from your local county clerk.

Just remember, if you’re an unaffiliated voter and you want to vote in next month’s primary, you can only return one ballot. Voting in both primaries will invalidate your ballot.

Though there's numerous races, right now we're going to focus on the gubernatorial slate. Here's who you can vote for next month, in case you forgot or missed all the TV and Instagram ads:

Former state senator Mike Johnston
Former state treasurer Cary Kennedy
Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis

Former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez
Former state representative Victor Mitchell
Businessman Doug Robinson
State Treasurer Walker Stapleton

So who’s leading the pack in both parties?

For the most part, the Republican field seems to have the clearest frontrunner. Democrats are harder to gauge, but this is Colorado politics, after all, and anything can happen. (Maybe another tattoo?)

On the Republican side, George W. Bush’s cousin is still leading the pack.

Political consultant and former Colorado Republican party chairman Dick Wadhams said what’s been the perception among GOP candidates over the past few weeks: Walker Stapleton is the clear frontrunner. Behind him, Wadhams said Mitchell has moved into second with his large TV presence, with Robinson and Lopez bringing up rear.

Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton. The 2018 Republican State Assembly on the campus of the University of Colorado Boulder, April 14, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

But — and this is a big but — Wadhams doesn’t see Stapleton’s lead as insurmountable. It’s just going to be a really tough case to crack for his opponents, who will need to do something dramatic and impactful to get the attention of voters. Wadhams said this could be done by latching on to some major issue or new policy that sets them apart and captures the attention of primary voters. (Worth noting, all four will be speaking at the high-profile Western Conservative Summit next month).

This means it’s do-or-die time for Lopez, Mitchell and Robinson. They need to shake things up or find themselves making concession calls next month.

“If things continue the way they have been, Stapleton is going to be the nominee,” Wadhams said.

Denver-based conservative radio talkshow host Jimmy Sengenberger said he's interviewed all four GOP candidates for what he calls a "vibrant" primary on both sides of the aisle.

"I think there's more of a learning toward Walker Stapleton as being more likely to be the nominee than the others," Sengenberger said. "But I wouldn't count out any of the other three."

Lopez has fundraising challenges to overcome, while Mitchell has been doing a good job raising money and raising his profile through ads and. Robinson also needs to raise his profile, Sengenberger said.

"I think the same challenges come across for all of these candidates in terms of having that name (recognition)," he said.

There’s another avenue for the other Republicans challengers, though it’s totally out of their hands: Wait for Stapleton to make a major mistake.

“Ballots drop in two weeks. It’s not impossible, he can make a major mistake and change the outcome of the election,” Wadhams said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Robinson speaks at the Colorado Health Institute's Hot Issues in Health conference, Dec. 8, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Wadhams said Stapleton has had a few head-scratching moments. They included his decision not to participate in next month’s Colorado Public Television debate (confirmed by the station), allowing controversial former congressman Tom Tancredo to introduce him at the Republican Assembly (which he joined only after having to abandon his petitions) and his awkward Fox News appearance last week following a school shooting in Texas.

“I am perplexed by his decision,” Wadhams said about his decision to skip the debate. Those speaking opportunities are good preparation for the general election, he said, “It’s important to get that grounding in the primary to be able to debate well in the general election.”

Aligning himself with Tancredo is a “liability,” Wadhams said, because of his past, that could end up becoming an issue in the general election. And during his Fox News appearance last week, Stapleton had a hard time citing the gun legislation passed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. (After he was told about them, Stapleton said he’s not sure the laws would work well in Colorado.)

Wadhams said Stapleton should have been more prepared.

“You add these things up and I think it raises the question, is Walker Stapleton ready for a general election?” Wadhams said.

On the Democratic side, uh, well, it’s a little more complicated here.

We’ll call the Democratic race the more Royal Rumble-y of the two.

"We're not really sure what's going on out there," independent pollster and political analyst Floyd Ciruli said about the Dems.

It had started to look like a race between Polis and Kennedy, with Polis being a sitting a Congressman with mass name recognition and Kennedy earning a spot on ballot at the Democratic assembly. But Johnston has kept himself in the ring with a strong base.

Ciruli said he thinks Johnston is still in the mix because of his resources and his base, which he said appeals to "pragmatic Democrats who are a little more in the Hickenlooper camp."

Gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy speaks with a constituent before a Democratic Party caucus at Smiley Middle School in North Park Hill, March 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

"Everybody went into this race thinking Polis had a tremendous advantage," Ciruli said. "Without a recent poll, we're just sort of guessing what's going on...I'll go in thinking there's at least three pretty competitive candidates. We'll have to see how it sorts out."

The odd one out is Lynne. Polls in March showed she wasn't popular or well-known, despite being lieutenant governor. At this point, she's not so much a participant as she is standing ringside. Her most memorable contribution to this election cycle has been getting a tattoo. Will it prompt a bump in support? 

"No," Ciruli said. "I think it was a publicity stunt. It got her some attention, but ... if we were appointing somebody the governor, probably she would win. She looks very competent. It's just, we're not appointing people."

Democratic analyst and consultant Steve Welchert said it's not likely Lynne would drop out at this point in the game. But he doesn't sound convinced she can mount any kind of comeback, since Welchert said he never saw a path to victory for her to begin with.

"She wasn't viable when she got in the race and she's less viable today," Welchert said. "Nobody knows who she is. She has no voter base. She has no natural constituency."

Finding differences between the three more popular candidates can be tricky. There's one trick: Follow the money.

Democratic political consultant and advisor Cristina Aguilar points out that among the top-three, the fundraising avenues seem to be pretty different. Aguilar is the former executive director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights and Democratic political consultant.

Polis, one of the richest members of Congress, has been pumping his own money into the campaign, to the tune of $5 millionper the latest finance figures compiled by Colorado Public Radio. Polis has $6.5 million in overall contributions, placing him in first.

"He's probably concerned that he needs more advertising," Ciruli said about Polis' spending.

Behind Polis is Johnston, who has seen nearly $6 million raised in contributions, including money from his PAC, Frontier Fairness. Aguilar said Johnston has seen an uptick in out-of-state contributions, which is true: Frontier Fairness received a $1 million donation from former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and CPR reported the PAC also received $1 million from a Connecticut couple known for supporting charter schools.

U.S. Congressman Jared Polis. The 2018 Democratic State Assembly at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, April 14, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

And Kennedy? She's a bit behind all the candidates in fundraising totals, placing in fifth, behind Stapleton, in CPR's report. But she did raise more than $800,000 during the last quarter — the most raised by any candidate in any quarter so far. And as CPR notes, a majority of that money came from the collective total of more than 6,000 small contributions.

This grassroots approach could be benefitting Kennedy, Aguilar said.

"I think that is one of the defining characteristics," Aguilar said. "I fundamentally believe that when we are reaching voters more directly and doing in a grassroots kind of way, I feel like that's really where it's at for candidates, in order to gain the kind of momentum ... the ground game has to be strong."

Here are some dates to keep in mind:

Colorado’s Primary Election takes place June 26.

If you’re not sure if you’re registered to vote, you can go to and check. You can also request a primary ballot if you’re an unaffiliated voter.

You will have until May 29 (Tuesday) to make changes to your party affiliation; May 29 is also the deadline for unaffiliated voters to request a ballot preference.

Secretary of State spokesperson Lynn Bartels said in an email that June 18 will be the last day to submit a voter registration application and still receive a ballot in the mail. All ballots are mailed to active voters in Colorado.

Democrats register befote a caucus at Smiley Middle School in North Park Hill, March 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“We generally advise voters to use the 24-hour ballot drop boxes in their counties rather than mailing in the ballots,” Bartels said in an email. “Those are checked regularly. Most mail in the state must be sent to Denver to be processed and then sent back to the clerk. The drop box is much more of a guarantee.”

Denver has several of these 24-hour drop boxes (you can see them all on the city’s website). The ballots you get in the mail will typically have information about nearby drop boxes. You can also visit your county’s website to find a locations.

During the 2016 election, 66 percent of ballots were dropped in these boxes, while 27 percent were returned via mail. Just seven percent of residents voted in person.

Our state has same-day voter registration, which means you can register and vote on June 26 to participate in the primary.

You can also do same-day registration during  the General Election on Nov. 6.

You’ll have several chances to watch gubernatorial candidates debate.

Still thinking about who to cast your vote for? You're in luck: Candidates will be participating in a few more primary debates.

We’ve reached out to the campaigns about the remaining debates, and they told us there will be at least two more debates for each party (multiple candidates' campaigns told us the Denver Post is scheduled to hold a debate the week before the primary, but we couldn’t confirm the date or time). Unless otherwise noted, all the candidates will be participating.

-Friday, June 1 at 9 p.m. on Colorado Public Television, which is recording the debate May 30 at 2 p.m.
-Monday, June 4 at 7 p.m. on 9News, viewable on Channel 20 KTVD
-Friday, June 8 at 9 p.m. on Colorado Public Television; debate will be recorded on June 6. Stapleton had a conflict with the date and won’t be attending, according to CPT.
-Thursday, June 7, at 7 p.m. on 9News, Viewable on Channel 20 KTVD

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