Opinion

Democratic primary rumble in governor’s race will cost bruises and lots of money

Author: Paula Noonan - September 1, 2017 - Updated: September 1, 2017

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Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

Two interesting questions arise for the Democratic primary race for governor:  How much money will the races attract, and how much money will it take to gain the number of votes to win the race?  The first question affects both primaries and the general election.  The second question concerns mostly the general election.

Money had to be a significant factor in U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s decision to drop out of the governor’s race.  He was outraised by all the major candidates, with Cary Kennedy, former State Treasurer, matching the congressman’s pot in just one quarter of fundraising.

Polis will get dollars out of his own money-market account.  Former state Sen. Michael Johnston has probably raised more than $1 million already, since his current report shows over $930,000.  Kennedy has $330,000-plus.  Donna Lynne won’t report until October, but her long reach into the Colorado business community should get her to a million pretty quickly. If she doesn’t get close to that early in 2018, she’s in trouble. The Democratic governor’s primary will require well over $1 million per candidate. It could easily pass $8 million total.

The breakout of Dem primary votes is anybody’s guess.  Since primaries bring out the most active voters, candidates will jockey for the 1,046,832 registered Dems considered active voters plus some share of the 1,187,916 voters registered as unaffiliated.  Dem candidates will look to individuals who’ve voted in multiple even-year elections and especially those Dems and unaffiliateds in predominantly Democratic counties who voted in off-year school board and mill and bond elections.

On an “issue” basis, fracking may be the most important.  Over 580,000 Democratic voters live in Front Range counties where an anti-fracking position may be definitive: Arapahoe, Adams, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver and Larimer.  That’s over half of the state’s active Democratic voters, which means candidates will have to take a direct position that could turn problematic in the general election.

Gov. John Hickenlooper finessed anti-fracking votes due to weak Republican gubernatorial candidates in 2010 and 2014 and his support of some regulation on the industry.  As many have noted, however, the ongoing drilling in northern Front Range counties has upped the pressure.

Polis has established a solid record on the anti-fracking side, though activist Democrats and environmentalists objected to the deal he cut with the governor to keep oil and gas initiatives off the ballot in 2014.  Lynne’s candidacy may be most vulnerable to activist Democratic voters based on her moderately pro-business orientation and the governor’s oil and gas record.

But that’s the rub for Democrats.  If Polis wins the primary, many business interests, and especially extraction industries, will pour money directly to Republicans and indirectly to “issue” advertising to defeat him. An offset may come from renewable energy and technology enterprises that the congressman has consistently supported.

One other issue could potentially hurt Polis and Johnston: their strong support of charter schools.  Polis funds his own charter and Johnston sponsored bills on public teacher evaluation and school finance.  Teacher evaluation has been significantly modified and school finance was defeated at the polls. Both candidates may experience tepid financial and voter support among traditional public school teachers, a significant proportion of active Democratic voters.

The interests that have beefs with the various Democratic candidates have lots of money that can hurt in both primary and general elections.  Republicans have their own problems, so they shouldn’t lick their chops.  But the Democratic primary winner may come out of the primary with more than bumps and bruises.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.


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