Attorney General Cynthia Coffman to join crowded GOP primary for governor of Colorado

Author: Ernest Luning - November 8, 2017 - Updated: November 9, 2017

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman talks about her tenure in office at an interview with The Colorado Statesman on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Building in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman talks about her tenure in office at an interview with The Colorado Statesman on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Building in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman launched a long-anticipated campaign for governor Wednesday, joining a crowded Republican primary field and turning her current office into an open seat a year before the election.

Coffman said in a statement she’s running “because Colorado faces serious challenges as a growing state and needs a strong, principled leader who understands the diverse nature of our rural communities and the increasing tensions of urban living.”

Saying she’s concerned leadership deficits in Denver and Washington, D.C., have “put our core values at risk,” Coffman declared, “Our state needs a leader who can reach across party lines and find solutions to complicated problems. We are proud that the Front Range is growing, but the hardworking Coloradans in our rural and frontier communities cannot be left behind. I’m running to be Governor of all four corners of our diverse state.”

She’s the second major GOP candidate to get in the gubernatorial race in just over a week. Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a conservative firebrand and prominent foe of illegal immigration, kicked off his campaign last Tuesday, scrambling a field that also includes State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, prosecutor George Brauchler, businessman and former lawmaker Victor Mitchell and investment banker Doug Robinson.

Coffman’s entry scrambles the primary further, adding to the mix one of the better-known political names in the state and a voice that’s solidly moderate on social issues.

After walking in the annual PrideFest Parade to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered equality, Coffman addressed a rally on the steps of the state Capitol — the only Republican on a stage filled with Democrats — and said the state has more work to do. She also said she was likely the only Republican attorney general in the country to walk in a pride parade and challenged her fellow top GOP prosecutors to do the same.

Coffman filed a brief last month defending the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the state’s nondiscrimination law in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving a Lakewood baker who refused to serve a gay couple, citing his religion.

“If a retail bakery will offer a white, three-tiered cake to one customer, it has no constitutional right to refuse to sell the same cake to the next customer because he happens to be African-American, Jewish, or gay,” the brief states.

Five Democrats are in their party’s primary — U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, former state Sen. Mike Johnston and businessman Noel Ginsburg. The incumbent, Democrat John Hickenlooper, faces term limits after next year’s election.

The Denver Post was first to report Coffman planned to end months of speculation and kick off her gubernatorial run.

Her move leaves Republicans without a candidate in next year’s election for attorney general, although a handful of potential GOP candidates have said in recent months that they were considering a run for the office if Coffman jumped to the governor’s race.

Five Democrats are running for the office, which has been held by Republicans since early 2005, when John Suthers was appointed to fill the term of Democrat Ken Salazar, who stepped down after winning election to the U.S. Senate.

State Rep. Cole Wist, R-Centennial, told Colorado Politics last week he was giving serious consideration to a run for attorney general if Coffman switched races and said he anticipated making his announcement before Thanksgiving.

U.S. Rep. Buck said in July he was giving the race for attorney general some thought, but after months passed without word on Coffman’s intentions, he said it had become increasingly less likely he would run for the statewide office. Last week, Buck’s campaign spokesman told Colorado Politics that the Windsor Republican is running reelection to his 4th Congressional District seat.

Coffman was elected to her first term as attorney general in 2014 after a decade working as chief deputy attorney general under Suthers. Before that, she was chief legal counsel to former Gov. Bill Owens. Law Week named her Best Public Sector Lawyer in 2012.

Coffman announced in June that she and her husband, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, planned to divorce after 12 years of marriage. He’s running for a sixth term in the suburban battleground 6th Congressional District.

This story is developing and will be updated.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.