After concluding his speech Saturday morning at the Western Conservative Summit, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez walked outside the giant ballroom at the Colorado Convention Center and found himself surrounded by admirers.
This wasn’t a Beatlemania-level frenzy, but people — young and old — had started lining up to shake his hand. It was an encouraging sight for Lopez, who most political commentators have in last place among the four candidates vying for the Republican nomination. Lopez also won a straw poll of attendees, with 39 percent of the vote.
The race is currently led by State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who came in a close second in the straw poll, followed by businessmen Victor Mitchell and businessman Doug Robinson.
All four got a chance to speak during the Summit, with Stapleton and Robinson speaking on Friday. Lopez and Mitchell gave their remarks Saturday. The two candidates who spoke Friday had the benefit of a larger crowd, while Saturday’s crowd was a lot sparser, at least during the morning and afternoon slots.
It was a pretty easy decision for them to attend, unlike the Democratic candidates, who were invited but declined to attend. For the GOP hopefuls, it was a chance to address some of the most die-hard Republican voters in the state, the same folks who will be eager to cast ballots (and in some cases, already cast) ahead of the June 26 Primary Election.
Mitchell, who spoke Saturday, came on stage and repeated his campaign message as being the outsider candidate who’s the party’s grassroots candidate.
“I choose to be part of the solution,” Mitchell said, before touting his business skills: “I come at this as an entrepreneur and as a business owner. I started my first businesses when I was 21 years old. I never worked for anyone other than myself. I built six successful businesses in different industries.”
He said the next governor should be someone who has the ability to “solve complex problems and exploit great opportunities,” in the state.
“I think I’m uniquely qualified in that sense,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he doesn’t want Amazon to get any economic incentives, saying it’s “ridiculous,” considering it’s one of the richest companies in the world. The company has named Denver as one of the possible destination cities for its massive second headquarters.
“One hundred percent of our economic incentives should go, be targeted to small and medium-sized employers, employers that can operate economically-challenged communities in our state,” Mitchell said.
Alan Maitland said he liked Mitchell’s speech, especially what the candidate said about improving education and helping small businesses like the one he works in. Maitland said he heard all four candidates speak.
“I was very impressed by him,” Maitland said, shortly after meeting Mitchell. He’s not 100 percent sure of who he will vote for, but he knows who he’s leaning toward. “I thought he seemed the best choice.”
Lopez lived up to his billing and the most polished speaker in the bunch. A Texas-born Air Force veteran and third-generation Mexican-American, Lopez knew how to work the crowd, with some humor, a pocket U.S. Constitution, and more mentions of President Donald Trump than any other candidate.
CU regent Heidi Ganahl, who interviewed each candidate on-stage after their speeches, gave Lopez kudos after his remarks.
“That was quite a speech, thank you, Greg,” Ganahl said
Lopez said Colorado’s election was about fighting for the soul of the state.
“My values are simple: We are all created equal,” Lopez said. “Our rights are given to us by our Creator, and it is the purpose of government to secure these rights, not provide them.”
Stapleton spoke about his faith, while Robinson mentioned his work with helping Colorado families.
On Friday, Stapleton, who was joined on stage by his son Craig, began his remarks by saying that every day was a good day to be a Christian. He spoke about the importance of faith in his family, which he said help provide a focus in life. He applauded the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision and the importance of religious freedom.
Stapleton talked about his support for President Trump’s tax plan and how he would keep U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, the Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner, from turning Colorado into California
“I am here to fight for the future of this state,” Stapleton said. “And I need your help … I have an abiding faith and love for my family and my three kids, my other two daughters are swimming, that will never go away no matter what office I have in life.”
Robinson did something no other candidate did: Instead of planting himself on the lectern and pontificating, Robinson walked around the stage. It made his presentation appear more relaxed.
The state is lacking in leadership, Robinson said. But he noted that conservatives shouldn’t be ashamed to boast about the accomplishments Washington has made, including creating a more vibrant economy and improving safety.
“We are the party of action and my plan is to focus on a few things,” Robinson said. “Number one: Fix our roads. That means I-25, both lanes, four lanes, both directions from Colorado Springs to Ft. Collins, no tolls, no new taxes.”
Robinson said he wants shift funding for schools to focus from administrative costs to the classroom. He talked about the nonprofit programs he’s co-founded to teach children tech skills and keeping marijuana away from them.
“I’ve been able to pull people together both sides of the aisle to deal with an issue,” Robinson said. “I’ve done more from outside the system than my opponents that have been in government for a long time.”
Those in attendance were a mixture of people who already knew who they were voting for and those interesting in learning more.
Ron Lock, who came down from Holyoke in northeast Colorado, is a first-time attendee. He knows who’s earned his primary vote: Lopez.
“I already voted for him,” Lock said, adding that his ballot is ready to go, he just needs to drop it off. “The other guys might be fine too, but I know where Greg stands on the issues and that’s good enough for me.”
“I would be excited to call him Mr. Governor,” Lock said.
Sitting next to Lock, John Marvin, of Arvada, was a lot less sure about who he would support.
It’s one of the reasons Marvin said he attended the summit, to learn more and perhaps leave with a candidate in mind. Though undecided, he said the candidate he’ll end up supporting will be the most Trump-like among them. He wants to see the governor’s seat and other elected offices occupied by Republicans, which he admits won’t be easy in Colorado.
“Colorado is a tough one,” Marvin said. “We used to be a Republican state.”
Marvin believes the state’s shift from red to purple was brought upon by the Californian residents who moved to Colorado.
Brian Yee, 19, is a student at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and was among the group of young people attending the summit with conservative organizations. Yee has already submitted his ballot, voting for Lopez, who Yee said earned his vote because of his personality. He said he supports Lopez because of his potential to court the Hispanic vote and his stance against sanctuary cities.
Yee said he wasn’t interested in voting in someone like Stapleton.
“You’ve seen the same thing over and over again. It’s nothing new,” Yee said.