Election 2018GovernorNewsTop Story

Democrats pledge unity, rally around gubernatorial nominee Jared Polis

Author: Ernest Luning - June 29, 2018 - Updated: June 29, 2018

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, center, Colorado's Democratic gubernatorial nominee, high-fives U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter as Gov. John Hickenlooper, state Rep. Alec Garnett, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and House Speaker Crisanta Duran applaud, at a rally on the steps of the state Capitol Friday, June 29, 2018, in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, center, Colorado’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, high-fives U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter as Gov. John Hickenlooper, state Rep. Alec Garnett, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and House Speaker Crisanta Duran applaud, at a rally on the steps of the state Capitol Friday, June 29, 2018, in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

DENVER — Leading Colorado Democrats on Friday called for a unified front ahead of the fall election at a Capitol rally for freshly minted gubernatorial nominee Jared Polis, though the absence of the three candidates defeated by the Boulder congressman in Tuesday’s primary drew jeers from state Republicans.

Speakers hailed Polis’ drive and inclusive approach while also taking aim at his GOP opponent Walker Stapleton and slamming President Donald Trump for taking the country “from one emergency, one outrage to the next.”

“Here’s why it’s so important,” said U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat. “It’s not just about being a check and balance. It’s about moving the agenda forward. It’s about having a governor who understands what every person in this state is important.”

After Polis stepped to the lectern, he quieted the cheers and asked for a moment of silence for the five journalists killed Thursday in a shooting at a Maryland newspaper.

“All of us are coming together to show what is at stake in this election,” he said. “We need to make sure that our Democratic Party is unified like never before, but we’re also building coalitions with independent voters, with moderate Republican voters, with principled conservatives who disagree with the direction President Trump is taking the country.”

Stapleton and Polis are running to succeed term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, a centrist, business-friendly Democrat whose tenure has seen Colorado’s economy enjoy one of the strongest expansions in the country.

An internet entrepreneur and one of the wealthiest members of Congress, Polis emerged this week from a sometimes acrimonious four-way primary after campaigning for just over a year and spending more than $11 million of his own money in what has already become the most expensive race for governor in state history.

Polis defeated his next-closest rival, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, by about 20 points. Former state Sen. Mike Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne finished in third and fourth place, respectively.

While Republicans hurled familiar barbs at Polis Friday — deriding his “radical agenda that will destroy Colorado’s energy industry, institute government-run healthcare, and raise taxes” — it was Polis’ missing former foes that drew the sharpest dig.

“Notably absent from the initial release of attendees are any of Congressman Polis’ primary opponents,” state GOP chair Jeff Hays taunted in a statement. “This mock rally shows us how divided the Democrats actually are.”

On Thursday, Stapleton made stops along the Front Range accompanied by the three Republicans he beat on Tuesday, including one who repeatedly called him a liar and charged days before the election that Stapleton “would get destroyed” in November if he won the nomination.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, the six-term Arvada Democrat who briefly ran for governor last summer before shifting to a bid for re-election, dismissed concerns his party was split after what he termed “a very spirited and hard-fought primary.”

“We are going to be united, we are going to be focused, and we’re going to win these races to keep Colorado going in the right direction,” he said.

A spokesman for the state Democrats, organizers of the rally, said Kennedy, Johnston and Lynne skipped it due to scheduling conflicts that arose after Polis decided to fly back to Washington, D.C., for congressional votes this week. The party issued written endorsements of Polis from all three on Thursday, as well as statements from two others who didn’t make the primary ballot.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado's Democratic gubernatorial nominee, hugs Gov. John Hickenlooper as former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter applaud at a rally on the steps of the state Capitol Friday, June 29, 2018, in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, hugs Gov. John Hickenlooper as former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter applaud at a rally on the steps of the state Capitol Friday, June 29, 2018, in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

At Friday’s rally, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who considered a run for governor and endorsed Kennedy in the primary, heaped praise on Polis as “a doer of great deeds.”

“The one thing that has driven Jared, and that drives me to work as hard as I can to make sure that he gets elected in November, is that he cares about everyone, with no exceptions. If you look at everyone here today, you see an inclusive Colorado that leaves no one behind,” he said.

Then, gesturing to the man Polis hopes to replace, Salazar added, “We need to make sure that the baton of a great governor, John Hickenlooper, is passed to another great governor by the name of Jared Polis.”

Referring to his cell phone counter that tracks the days remaining in his term, Hickenlooper said, “I can tell you with authority that in 194 days, Jared Polis will be sworn in as the next governor of Colorado.”

“I think he is going to do everything, everything he can do to continue Colorado’s climb,” Hickenlooper said. “Right now we are pretty much the envy of every state — they wouldn’t admit it, but we are. I think we can create a Colorado way of life that is a balanced one, where people can work hard and play hard.”

Longtime Democratic strategist Alan Salazar, chief of staff to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and a past chief advisor to Hickenlooper, told Colorado Politics after the rally that he thinks Polis is in a good position heading into the general election.

“Congressman Polis started out the right way on election night, calling for unity with the whole state, with Democrats and Republicans and moderates. His opponent called for unity within the Republican Party, which is exactly the wrong message,” Salazar said.

“John Hickenlooper leaves the state in very good shape; people feel the state is on the right track, and there’s no reason to go off that track, particularly now with the concerns about Donald Trump.”

As to Republican attempts to brand Polis as a far-left extremist, Salazar shook his head.

“I think Jared’s progressive credentials are authentic, which is partly why he won the Democratic primary,” he said. “But if you look at Jared Polis, he’s also an entrepreneur and a businessman, he’s not been an ideologue. He might have a little left-of-center record, but this is a left-of-center year, in my opinion. This is not 2010, this is not 2014. In Donald Trump’s America, and given Colorado’s disdain for Donald Trump, I think that this is a year Jared Polis will win handily.”

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.