Polis, Stapleton will be their parties’ nominees for governor of Colorado

National observers believe Colorado’s gubernatorial election is mostly toss-up, which isn’t surprising for a state that’s been labeled purple over the last few presidential election cycles.
7 min. read
State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The race to be Colorado's next governor will be between Democrat U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

The field for the major parties is now set, pretty much confirming what the polls predicted all along and setting the stage for the state’s first open election for governor in eight years.

Stapleton was Tuesday's first winner. The Associated Press called the race for Stapleton at 7:30 p.m. Almost on cue, the band at Stapleton's party started performing.

The AP called the Dems race for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis at 7:46 p.m., and Polis addressed supporters at a hotel in Broomfield shortly after.

Jared Polis greets elated supporters at his primary election watch party after he was named the Democratic candidate for governor, June 26, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“A few weeks ago at an event, an older voter asked me, ‘Is America still possible?’ And I answered, ‘Not only is it possible, it’s an absolute certainty.’ America is here and we will grow stronger. Because you know what? America is about so much more than the actions or divisiveness or tweets of any one person. Or the turmoil of any one moment. It's about us. It’s about an abiding belief, and hopefulness and optimism that leads us to dream and to be bold," Polis told the crowd. "I want to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to Cary Kennedy, Mike Johnston and Donna Lynne … Each one of them inspired people, brought forth passionate ideas about moving our great state forward. You know Cary, Mike and Donna are people of great integrity, and I’m excited to continue working with them.”

Stapleton was mobbed by supporters shortly after stepping off the stage following his victory speech, where he called for unity among the party and thanked his opponents. He has no plans to take a break, saying he plans on waking up at 5 a.m. tomorrow to continue on the campaign trail for the next 120 days.

He said his campaign has focused since day one on a threat he said matters: Polis becoming governor.

“I think we need to talk about what the future of this race is going to bring to Colorado, because the differences could not be more stark in terms of my vision for the economic future of this state and Jared Polis’,” Stapleton said.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton celebrates with supporters. (Alyson McClaran/For Denverite)

He continued, mentioning some of the ideas Polis has supported: “From healthcare to the future of energy industry, to free college tuition and free preschool, I have no idea how we’re going to pay for this — actually, I do have an idea, through greater taxes on businesses and individuals and that is not the vision for Colorado that I want.”

The candidates seek to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, a term-limited moderate Democrat first elected in 2010. Hickenlooper didn’t endorse any gubernatorial candidates in the primary race and has been pretty vague about his future plans, which could include a run for national office.

Nearly 1 million Coloradans cast ballots in Tuesday's primary, a figure that Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels said was the highest turnout in the last five primaries.

The four Democrats hoping to keep the state’s highest office blue included former state senator Mike Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and Polis. All have been campaigning on platforms emphasizing a variety of liberal causes, including a focus on education, improving healthcare access, maintaining Colorado’s natural resources and repealing TABOR.

Republicans — who haven’t won a governor’s race since Gov. Bill Owens won re-election in 2002 — had four candidates vying to try to break the party’s losing streak. They included former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, former state representative and businessman Victor Mitchell, businessman Doug Robinson and Stapleton. Their platforms have included supporting President Trump, defunding sanctuary cities, rolling back building regulations and generally ensuring Colorado doesn’t turn into California.

Owens introduced Stapleton on Tuesday, saying it has been way too long since the state has had a Republican governor.

National observers believe Colorado’s gubernatorial election is mostly toss-up, which isn’t surprising for a state that’s been labeled purple over the last few presidential election cycles.

Michele Ames, a spokesperson for Lynne's campaign, said that while they were sad about the way the election results turned out, "we are really enthusiastic to support the Democratic candidate and we are hopeful that the general election will show that the ideals of the Democratic party are brought forth."

What supporters are saying

Don Ivins-McCleary, 52, and his partner, Ron, are excited to support Polis. Don volunteered to make calls for the campaign, he said, because he likes Polis’ outlook on education and ideas about medicare for all. But they’re particularly excited at the prospect of seeing a gay man take a run at the governor’s office.

Ron said he can remember a time when he didn’t feel safe being out in public. With the Trump presidency, what he called a “step back,” Polis’ run is a refreshing development.

“It’s a big impact,” he said. “Really good.”

Don Ivins-McCleary, 52, cheers after multiple media outlets called Jared Polis as Colorado's gubernatorial candidate. That's his husband, Ron, on the right. June 26, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jennifer Seigel, 53, and Ann Barry, 59, said they’re cautiously optimistic that Jared Polis will take the primary. “We’ve been burned before,” Siegel said.

Barry is a recent immigrant from Canada who’s voting in her first election since arriving in the U.S. Immigration, she said, is a big issue for her.

“It’s an emotional issue, it pulls at our heartstrings,” Seigel said. “But for me, I chose Jared because he is the perfect mix of business savvy and earned success and a caring heart.”

Evie Ashmore of Centennial attended Stapleton's watch party and said she's supported him from the start. She likes his chances against Polis, adding that she believes Stapleton will be able to raise enough money to compete with the Democratic nominee.

"I think Polis is way too far left," Ashmore said. "If Walker gets his message out, he can be successful."

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, came into today confident that Kennedy could win. “It’s hard to beat $11 million,” she said. Yet, she added, “the people I talked to, Cary had so much support.” The education campaigners’ informal motto: If people could meet her, they’d vote for her.

Still, Dallman said, “I’m comforted as an educator that education will remain a priority going forward.”

Riley, a 17-year-old from Broomfield attending Johnston's event, thinks tonight's election results are a display of the future of the democratic party. She believes there is a strong desire, especially amongst young people in the state, to put Colorado at the front of the progressive wave.

“I was all in for Cary,” said Lucy Olena, 29. Now, she’s ready to shift her focus to the general. “I was excited to have Cary run, to see a woman in the governor’s office,” she said. “It will take a couple weeks to settle, but then I’ll be all in for Polis.”

How they got here.

Each candidate had two ways of gaining access onto the primary ballot. They either had to collect 1,500 signatures from each of the state’s seven congressional districts or collect at least 30 percent support in the party’s state assembly.

Johnston was the first gubernatorial candidate to qualify onto the ballot in March after submitting petitions. Kennedy and Polis both qualified through the April assembly, with Kennedy emerging as the top vote-getter in Broomfield. Like Johnston, Lynne qualified through the petitioning process, earning a spot in April.

Lopez and Stapleton surprised everyone in April by qualifying onto the ballot at the party’s assembly in Boulder. A few days later, Mitchell secured his place on the ballot after his petitioning signatures were approved. Robinson, after some issues with signatures that initially ruled him out, qualified onto the ballot later in April.

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