Republican Walker Stapleton considering assembly bid in addition to petitioning on primary ballot
Author: Ernest Luning - March 8, 2018 - Updated: March 9, 2018
Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor, has turned in petitions to qualify for the June primary but is considering also going through the assembly process — a move that could land him top-line designation on the ballot and potentially knock out the only other statewide elected official in the running, Colorado Politics has learned.
As results showing convincing Stapleton wins filter in from unofficial gubernatorial straw polls conducted in some counties at Tuesday night’s GOP precinct caucuses, his supporters have become increasingly convinced Stapleton could come out on top at the April 14 state assembly in Boulder and are urging him to take the plunge.
A source close to the Stapleton campaign said that the more the candidate is being encouraged to add the assembly route, the more he’s considering it.
As many as 10 GOP candidates — including a handful who have declared but haven’t done much campaigning — are running for the job held by term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. Other leading contenders are Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, one of several pursuing the nomination through caucuses and assembly, and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell, who have submitted petitions along with Stapleton to qualify for the primary. (State officials say it could be mid- to late April before all three candidates know whether enough signatures on their petitions have passed muster to make the ballot.)
Statewide candidates in Colorado can use two methods to get on the primary ballot — gather 10,500 signatures from fellow party members or get the votes of at least 30 percent of the delegates to state assembly. Those who do both have to clear at least 10 percent support among delegates, or their petitions are thrown out.
“Put it this way: Someone has to come out of state assembly, and if Walker can be that someone, why wouldn’t he?” a Republican strategist told Colorado Politics.
Coffman was circulating petitions until mid-February, when she switched gears to assembly after former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, who had been the only major candidate going through assembly, dropped out of the race. At this point, Coffman’s chief rivals for assembly delegates include Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired the Denver Trump campaign two years ago.
The candidate who gets the most votes at an assembly wins the coveted top line on primary ballots.
Unlike the Democrats this year, Republicans didn’t conduct a statewide preference poll between candidates for governor at precinct caucuses to determine delegate selection, but several counties organized non-binding straw polls. In Boulder County, for example, Stapleton won with 61 percent of the vote over Coffman, who had 20 percent, with the rest trailing in low to mid-single digits. Stapleton also won in Pueblo County with 46 percent, ahead of Mitchell’s 24 percent and Coffman’s 8 percent.
Publicly available polling shows a large undecided pool of Republican primary voters, but Stapleton appears to be leading among those who have picked a candidate. In one recent poll, he had twice the support Coffman had, with none of the other candidates breaking single digits.
A Republican strategist who managed a gubernatorial campaign until late last year said the lack of dominant candidates headed into assembly presents an opportunity for Stapleton to consolidate support and thin the field ahead of the primary vote.
“There’s virtually no risk of getting under 10 percent, and I think, based on the polling and what we’re hearing from the counties that conducted straw polls, Walker has strong delegate support,” said Ryan Lynch, who ran George Brauchler’s campaign until shortly before the Arapahoe County prosecutor switched to the attorney general’s race.
“There’s very little risk of not top-lining at assembly, based on the field. You have a lot to gain, too — you could keep Cynthia, the only other candidate with any level of name ID, off the ballot entirely by keeping her under 30 percent,” Lynch said. “This would enable Walker’s campaign to focus on his lesser-known primary opponents who are going the petition route and might even provide them with the ability to shift focus to the general election earlier than they’d anticipated.”
Money isn’t everything at this stage — supporters of the caucus and assembly process say it’s a way for grassroots candidates to find a spot on the ballot — but the disparity between the petitioning candidates, including Stapleton, and the rest is stark. At the beginning of the year, according to the most recent campaign finance reports, Stapleton had $875,000 in the bank, more than 10 times the roughly $85,000 Coffman had on hand. None of the others going through assembly raised more than $10,000 in the most recent quarter.
Coffman told Colorado Politics her strategy will remain the same if Stapleton joins the chase for assembly delegates.
“It won’t change a thing. We welcome the competition,” she said through a spokeswoman.
When she first ran for attorney general four years ago, Coffman scored a resounding win at the state assembly when she received nearly 70 percent of the vote in a contest with then-state Rep. Mark Waller for the nomination. Waller, who was elected two years later as a commissioner in El Paso County — and endorsed Stapleton in the governor’s race earlier this week — had just enough delegate support to make the primary ballot in 2014 but conceded the race to Coffman two days later and dropped out.
Coffman recalled that race in an email to supporters Wednesday.
“[T]his campaign has the message and the momentum to go to the state assembly and WIN,” she wrote. “I’ve won a contested assembly before, securing the support of 69 percent of the delegates in 2014, and I’m ready to do it again.”
According to a spokesman for the state Republican Party, Stapleton — or any other candidate — can decide as late as the day of the state assembly whether to participate. A spokesman for Stapleton’s campaign declined to comment on the candidate’s plans.