We’re about to see Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton shake hands and maybe even exchange an awkward smile or two multiple times over the next few weeks as the two major-party gubernatorial candidates face one another in a series of debates.
Their first televised debate is Friday at 6 p.m. on CBS4.
“You’ll absolutely see fireworks,” Blueprint Strategies co-founder and Republican campaign consultant Cinamon Watson said. “The stakes are high. It’s not a time to pull punches at all.”
The two are scheduled to participate in eight debates or forums this month, including on Saturday on the Western Slope and on Oct. 8 in Pueblo for a debate sponsored by The Pueblo Chieftan.
Will the candidates share more detailed plans?
ProgressNow Colorado executive director Ian Silverii said the number one thing he’s looking forward to during the first debate is learning more about Stapleton’s plans. Silverii, whose group supports liberal policies, said he wants the Republican candidate and current State Treasurer to provide details on how he plans to implement his policies for improving the state’s roads, improving access to health care and increasing teacher’s pay.
“He has absolutely no tangible plans for these things,” Silverii said of Stapleton. “The truth is, he has no idea what these (schools) district are going through.”
Similarly, Kelly Maher, executive director at the conservative nonprofit organization Compass Colorado, said she wants to hear more details from Rep. Polis. She wants Polis to provide more clarity on how he plans to pay for his plan for free universal pre-K and discuss the potential impacts of making the state 100 renewable energy.
“The big question out there right now is that it seems like Jared Polis is making a lot of promises without any specifics about how he’s going to pay for them,” Maher said. “Every single proposal he has has a gigantic price tag associated with it and he’s given zero specificity about how he’s going to pay for it.”
One thing both Maher and Silverii agreed on: They believe debates can be important tools for helping to get their messages across.
Maher said it’s probably more important for Stapleton in this regard since, unlike Polis, he hasn’t pumped nearly $20 million of his own money into his campaign (outside groups are also pouring in millions supporting both candidates).
“Ultimately, he has to make sure people know who he his and what he stands for,” Maher said. “He has more to prove in terms of viability and showing why he would be a good governor. I think he would be a fabulous governor.”
Will President Trump be a major talking point?
Both candidates may raise the subject of the president, but for very different reasons.
“I think Jared is acting like he’s running against Trump. He knows the polling numbers and he’s trying to link Walker and Trump in voter’s minds,” Maher said over text. She thinks it’s possible to support someone without “wholesale supporting” everything about them.
Silverii is curious if Stapleton will continue touting his support for President Trump, who is largely unpopular in Colorado, according to polling.
“I want to know how he’s gonna reconcile his primary campaign, where he would support Donald Trump with everything he’s done, with the fact that Colorado did not vote for Donald Trump … and doesn’t support his agenda,” Silverii said.
He doesn’t think people will forget how often Stapleton aligned himself with the commander-in-chief. Silverii said that if he was Polis, he would “beat Walker over the head” for his support of Trump.
And what about an incident involving Polis’ former employee that recently came to light?
Another possible talking point: Could the 1999 incident involving a disgruntled employee whom Polis suspected of stealing be brought up on Friday? Polis wasn’t charged in the incident (the employee was) though a police report said he pushed her to keep her to prevent her from leaving.
It’s become a talking point for Republicans, some of whom are suggesting Polis assaulted the woman.
“It’s cynical ploy to muddy the waters when Stapleton is facing a 17 point gender gap, and even more insulting because he seems to think women are stupid and gullible and can’t tell who was the victim and who was the perpetrator of this crime,” Silverii said over text.
Maher said she’s not sure if the incident will come up during debates, but she points to an accusation from conservatives questioning why Polis changed his last name following the incident. She said the name change “just looks really fishy.”
And speaking of polling numbers, will this week’s fresh figures affect their debate strategies?
One poll released this week has Polis has a 7-point lead over Stapleton. The poll was conducted by two well-known and respected Democratic (Keating Research) and Republican (Magellan Strategies) pollsters.
So does this mean Polis comes in as the favorite? Maher isn’t sold.
“If I had spent $20 million on a campaign to show up with numbers like that, I would be embarrassed,” Maher said. “That’s really, deeply concerning and it should be for him.”
“I think both campaigns have their own internal polling that are probably saying the same thing,” Silverii said. “I’m sure their internal polls are driving a lot of what’s behind their campaign anyway.”
What Silverii found most interesting in this week’s poll is probably something Stapleton’s camp probably winced at: Among women, Polis has a commanding 52-35 point lead.
“That’s insane. That’s a 17-point gap,” Silverii said, adding these are promising numbers for Polis foreshadowing at a potential uptick in women’s voter turnout in Colorado.
You’ve got plenty of chances to watch the two debate.
The following are confirmed dates for upcoming debates and forums between Polis and Stapleton.
Oct. 5 in Denver. A (morning) forum hosted by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Oct. 5 in Denver. An (evening) debate hosted by CBS4, Colorado Public Television, KOA NewsRadio and the Colorado Sun.
Oct. 6 in Grand Junction. Debate hosted by The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel newspaper, Colorado Mesa University and Rocky Mountain PBS-Channel 6.
Oct. 8 in Pueblo. Debate hosted by The Pueblo Chieftain.
Oct. 13 in Colorado Springs. Debate hosted by The Gazette, Colorado Politics, Colorado Springs TV station KOAA-News5 and the El Pomar Foundation.
Oct. 17 in Fort Collins. Debate hosted by KUSA-9News and The Coloradoan.
Oct. 19 in Greeley. Debate hosted by Progressive 15.
Oct. 23 in Denver. Debate hosted by The Denver Post, KMGH-Denver7 and the University of Denver.