CIRULI: Tancredo hits the paywall — and shakes up both parties
Author: Floyd Ciruli - February 14, 2018 - Updated: February 13, 2018
Once again, the Republican establishment said “no” and Tom Tancredo surrendered to the reality of having no source of funding for his third campaign for governor. Tancredo’s decision to run always lacked believability beyond a primary challenge. It appeared mostly as a revenge tour for being denied the gubernatorial nomination in 2014.
But, his withdrawal not only shakes up the Republican race, it also rearranges the Democratic line-up. Jared Polis, the frontrunner, is seen by many Democrats as a vulnerable statewide candidate. The initial plausibility of his statewide election was mostly a product of Tancredo’s dramatic misalignment with the Colorado electorate of 2018.
Polis, who is considered as anti-establishment as Tancredo, will now become a target by much of the state’s business community who consider him an economic wrecking ball. Conservatives will portray him as an ineffectual congressperson, mostly noted for unconventional clothing and marijuana advocacy. The next tier of Democratic candidates — Cary Kennedy, Mike Johnston and Donna Lynne — should all gain financial support and will intensify their behind-the-scenes criticism of Polis’s electability.
The last campaign finance filing summed up the strengths and weaknesses of the horde of candidates. On the bottom of the list was Tom Tancredo with a mere $77,000. His goal of $150,000 was low compared to what an outsider candidate would need and given his experience in 2014 when better-funded candidates went after his numerous controversial statements and held him to second place.
Tancredo had a forlorn hope that 2018 was the year of the Trumpian outsider, with Steve Bannon providing fundraising opportunities. But Republicans in 2018 appear more interested in winning, especially if the Democratic nominee is Polis and, of course, Bannon is out of favor and sight.
The top Republican candidates from the finance filing list are Walker Stapleton and Victor Mitchell. Stapleton has the advantage of winning a statewide office twice, once against a potential Democratic nominee, Cary Kennedy. Mitchell is taken seriously because he loaned his campaign $3 million and hired a top pollster, David Hill, who knows the state. Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s late-starting campaign has fumbled with both messaging and fundraising (barely ahead of Tancredo), but she is still high-profile and possibly the best crossover candidate of the group.
The primary race for both parties could exceed $25 million ($13 million has already been reported). Because of Polis, Democrats are likely to spend more than Republicans.
Polis is ahead in all the polls that have been released, with support from about one-quarter of Democrats. He has the most aggressive campaign with nine field offices, more than $600,000 spent and a horde of early endorsements, especially from the Hispanic community. Polis has represented one-seventh of the state for the last decade in his congressional district and has the money to solicit unaffiliated voters. To the left, he presents himself as a Bernie Sanders liberal (lots of government programs and spending for health care, education, lots of regulation for environment, etc.), but to the business community and media, he tries to be the voice of reason and liberal moderation.
Two Democratic candidates appear to have the best possibility of challenging him. Cary Kennedy is the candidate of labor, especially the teachers union, which had a very successful 2017 at the school board election level. She has experience in statewide campaigns (which she lost) and has raised sufficient money to be viable in the state convention, but will need boatloads more for the primary. She has feminist support, and Colorado Democrats haven’t had a woman as a serious gubernatorial candidate since Gail Schoettler in 1998. Kennedy should also attract Bernie Sanders supporters.
Mike Johnston has his fans in the more moderate and professional wing of the party, and he has raised more than $1 million. But in a left-leaning party, can he find a plurality? Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne is raising money and has nearly $500,000 on hand, but it’s not clear if she has a base for her message of experience, good management and health care smarts. It’s a crowded field and she lacks previous campaign experience.
The campaign for governor will accelerate. Caucus results (March 6), petition returns and fundraising updates, along with daily announcements of endorsements and endless numbers of forums and debates, will fill time between now, the state conventions (April 14) and the primary (June 26). The debates in both parties will be important. Most primary voters are undecided. Pure talent to carry the crowd and dominate the narrative may decide this year. Plus, we may not be done with surprise announcements of new dropouts and dark horse candidates.