Election 2018FeaturedNews

PRIMARY 2018: 7 takeaways from Tuesday

Author: Joey Bunch, Marianne Goodland and Ernest Luning - June 28, 2018 - Updated: July 5, 2018

Election judge Michael Plous works as judges organize primary election ballots for counting as they arrive at the Denver Elections Division headquarters early June 26 in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado voters have set the stage for the fall election — and we’ve learned a lot in the wake of the primary that ended Tuesday. Here are some highlights:

Governor’s race, back where it started
A year or more ago, most insiders expected a general election between Republican Walker Stapleton and Democrat Jared Polis. The insiders were right. Millions of dollars and dozens of bruised egos later, the pair of frontrunners steamrolled their way onto the November ballot.

While Stapleton comes from a wealthy family that goes back generations in local, state and national politics — he’s a cousin to the presidential Bush family — Polis did it the old-fashioned way, with money.

Voters will have a clear choice: a Republican who has gladly linked arms with President Donald Trump and a Democrat who says oil-and-gas workers should start looking for new jobs as he rolls out a renewable energy agenda.

The internet millionaire-turned-politician is Democratic Party royalty in Colorado. He and fellow liberal rich folks Pat Stryker, Tim Gill and Rutt Bridges used their wealth and influence to help turn Colorado from Republican red to reliably purple. The governor’s office would be his crowning glory and would give the state its first openly gay governor, a factor that will attract interest and outside support for his sense-of-history candidacy.

While Stapleton’s put a million bucks into his own race, Polis dug into his seat cushions to sink more than $11 million into his own. Republicans have already rolled out the campaign talking point: Polis is trying to buy the election. Apparently the cost of an election is somewhere between $1 million and $11 million.


Can Weiser beat Brauchler?
Former University of Colorado law school professor Phil Weiser got almost all he could handle in beating fellow Democrat Joe Salazar for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. Weiser enjoyed a rare endorsement from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and raised more than 10 times as much money as Salazar, a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential run in 2016.

Does that mean Colorado voters are in an ultra-liberal mood this year? Does it mean they haven’t made up their minds about Weiser yet? He had little name recognition, while Salazar, Republicans contend, rode on the name ID of former state attorney general and Obama cabinet member Ken Salazar. It could mean both.

George Brauchler
George Brauchler campaigning for governor in September. (Photo courtesy of the campaign via Facebook)

Republicans, meanwhile, will field George Brauchler, the Arapahoe County-area district attorney who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooter and last year was considered a strong possibility for governor, before switching races.

The Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which bankrolled Cynthia Coffman’s AG win four years ago, started its general election rollout by putting muscle behind Brauchler the day after the primary ended, including TV ads statewide.

“George Brauchler is a once-in-a-generation type candidate,” Scott Will, RAGA’s executive director, told Colorado Politics the day after the primary wrapped up. “His bio lines up perfectly with what voters want for the job.”

He said Weiser’s background in academia won’t stand up on the campaign trail against Brauchler’s background as a prosecutor.

“His experience is sitting in an ivory tower in Boulder, while George has been standing up for Coloradans in courtroom putting away violent criminals.”


Year of the woman (more or less)
After national Women’s Marches against President Donald Trump and bruising #MeToo fights in the state Capitol, this was supposed to be the election year in Colorado where “women run, women win,” according to the battle cry.

Women certainly voted. In the primary, more women than men turned out to vote — 627,028 to 538,235 as of Wednesday night, when vote tallies were just short of complete, according to Secretary of State Wayne Williams. And women voters favored Democrats by a wide margin: 361,926 Democratic ballots cast to 250,549 Republican ballots.

In Colorado on primary day, women were in 25 contested primary races and won 13. Six women ran for statewide elected office this year, but after the primary only one remains — Jena Griswold, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary for secretary of state.

Three women ran unsuccessfully for governor this year. Cary Kennedy and Donna Lynne finished second and fourth, respectively, in the Democratic primary, while Attorney General Cynthia Coffman failed to make the primary ballot because she was crushed at the Republican state assembly in April.

Donna Lynne
Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne began her “Main Street” walking tour outside the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on
April 14, the day of the state Democratic assembly. (Photo by Marianne Goodland/Colorado Politics)

But Colorado Democrats nominated four women in seven congressional races this November: District 1 incumbent Diana DeGette beat Saira Rao in her primary, while Diane Mitsch Bush beat two men for the District 3 nomination, and Karen McCormick trounced Chase Kohne in the 4th CD. Stephany Rose Spaulding was unopposed in the 5th Congressional District to take on a heavily favored incumbent, Doug Lamborn, in November.

A record number of women are running for U.S. House and Senate seats this year. The Center for Responsive Politics reports there are 527 this year headed into the primary, a 67 percent spike over 2016. Women make up 23 percent of all congressional candidates this year.

Nationally, in Democratic House primaries featuring at least one woman, one man and no incumbent, women have been the top vote-getters in 66 of 93 races.

Colorado will have to wait at least four more years before nominating a woman for governor — it’s never happened — despite this year’s moment in political history.


What primary voter turnout may indicate for November
All eyes this November (or at least the ones who obsess over the Legislature) are focused on a handful of races that will determine control of the state Senate. In what will be the fall’s hottest contests, Democratic turnout far outpaced Republican votes in uncontested races, where the number of votes cast can indicate relative enthusiasm.

In Senate District 16 (Jefferson County and parts of Denver), Democrat Tammy Story received more than 17,000 votes heading into November’s general election. Incumbent Sen. Tim Neville got 12,500, based on unofficial results as of Wednesday. Neville won the 2014 election — a Republican wave year — by about 2 percent but failed to clear 50 percent of the vote. But it’s a small fraction of the total vote available in a district where unaffiliated voters lead all active voter registrations.

In Senate District 24 (Adams County), Democratic Rep. Faith Winter received more than 14,000 votes. Incumbent Republican Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik got just over 9,000. Martinez Humenik won her election in 2014 by about 1.5 percent and less than 1,000 votes.


Money makes the world go around
The spending on this year’s primary was unlike any other, due to the open gubernatorial seat and a number of other open statewide seat.

Candidates spent millions of their own dollars, loaned their campaigns millions more, and independent expenditure committees spent like they had blank checks up and down the ballot, more than $14.6 million just in May and June, according to the Secretary of State’s TRACER campaign finance system.

More than $10 million of that went to IECs spending on the gubernatorial contests. Some of those groups could go dormant (Teachers for Kennedy, for example) but others could gel around the candidates still in the running and keep the dollars going until November.

What this means for November? The spending for the 2018 election has already shattered records, and if you love TV and radio ads, mailers, door-to-door canvassers and social media popups everywhere, you’ll love this year’s general election. IECs that support or oppose ballot initiatives and candidates in the general election are already racking up millions of dollars in preparation for November.

If you don’t love the barrage of ads coming your way as summer turns to fall, there’s always a pillow to hide under.


Unaffiliated voters come on strong
It won’t be clear for a while exactly what impact unaffiliated voters had on the primary, but one thing’s for sure — given the chance to cast ballots in Colorado’s first semi-open primary, plenty of them took it.

Exceeding expectations, 290,639 unaffiliated voters participated in the primary, as of Wednesday’s tallies — accounting for just under one quarter of the 1.17 million votes cast in both primaries.

Unaffiliated voters in Colorado’s June 2018 primary received two ballots — one with Democratic candidates, the other with Republicans — but were only allowed to return one ballot. (Mark Harden, Colorado Politics)

Potentially boding poorly for Republicans in November, many more unaffiliated voters opted for the Democratic primary than picked the GOP ballot, even in Republican strongholds like Douglas and Weld counties. That echoed participation by partisans, with Democrats casting about 50,000 more ballots than Republicans statewide, according to preliminary figures.

Kent Thiry, the DaVita CEO who financed the 2016 ballot measure that let unaffiliated voters take part in primaries, declared victory: “This was a great day for Colorado’s citizens and Colorado’s future. Over a quarter-million engaged citizens were able to vote as independents, and now are a formidable voice that will help shape policy in our state for decades to come.”

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the Nevilles aren’t what they used to be
Five years ago, RMGO was the kingmaker in the General Assembly. It included marshaling forces in 2013 to recall two Democratic state senators over their support for gun control measures. In the 2014 election, RMGO helped put Republican Laura Woods into the Senate District 19 seat from Arvada. The group contributed $15,000 to 10 legislative candidates, with all but two winning their seats.

And in Jefferson County politics, one name stands out above all others: Neville. That’s Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton and his wife Barb, also a formidable political operative. Their two sons are political animals in their own right: Rep. Patrick Neville, the House minority leader from Castle Rock, and Joe, a former RMGO lobbyist who now runs Rearden Strategic, a political consulting business that’s making good money this year from campaigns for ideology-aligned candidates, including those backing the Stapleton and state House candidate Shane Sandridge.

But overall, Primary Night 2018 wasn’t a good night for the Nevilles or RMGO. Tim Neville had hoped to see a hand-anointed candidate win the GOP primary in his House district — Frank Francone — who would then go on to succeed compatriot Rep. Justin Everett (who wound up losing to Brian Watson in the race for the Republican nod for state treasurer). Joe Neville donated to Francone’s campaign.

But Francone appeared to have narrowly lost in the primary to Colin Larson. Another Tim Neville/RMGO backed-candidate, Ray Garcia, who ran against Rep. Lois Landgraf in Colorado Springs, lost by more than 30 points. The one legislative candidate backed by RMGO in the primary who won was Sen. Ray Scott in Grand Junction.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.