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Stapleton taps running mate — but plans to keep selection secret for awhile

Author: Ernest Luning - July 3, 2018 - Updated: July 5, 2018

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Walker Stapleton speaks after he won the Republican nomination to run for Colorado's governorship during an election night watch party in a hotel Tuesday, June 26, 2018, in Greenwood Village, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)Walker Stapleton speaks after he won the Republican nomination to run for Colorado’s governorship during an election night watch party in a hotel Tuesday, June 26, 2018, in Greenwood Village, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Walker Stapleton has a running mate, but the Republican gubernatorial nominee is in no hurry to let anyone know who it is.

After winning the four-way GOP primary a week ago, the two-term state treasurer has “offered the position to a well-qualified candidate,” a Stapleton campaign spokesman told Colorado Politics on Tuesday, and the candidate has accepted.

But following a strict reading of state law and breaking with routine practice — every major party gubernatorial nominee has unveiled his pick for lieutenant governor within a week of winning the primary — the campaign has decided to keep its selection under wraps until later this month, “when Coloradans have returned from their Fourth of July festivities.”

Democrats howled with derision and some outrage, charging the Stapleton campaign with a clumsy attempt at covering for a missed deadline, but the Republican’s campaign manager said he doesn’t understand why anyone would want to break such big news when voters are on vacation.

“I don’t think it makes sense to announce over the Fourth of July week unless you are in a hurry to try to change the narrative, which, after last week, Jared undoubtedly is,” Michael Fortney said, referring to U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

“He couldn’t unite the party, so he rushed to make his lieutenant governor announcement in hopes she could do what he couldn’t. I am skeptical. Or he didn’t read the entire law. Either way, not a good look.”

The law governing lieutenant governor nominations sets two deadlines. Gubernatorial nominees have to “select” a running mate “[n]o later than seven days following the primary election,” and their designated running mate has to deliver  a “written acceptance” to the secretary of state within 30 days after the primary.

The statute only requires making the pick, not announcing it to the world, Fortney said. Officials at the Secretary of State’s Office agreed, though they acknowledge that isn’t the way anyone has interpreted the law previously.

(Prior to the law’s adoption in 2000, Republicans and Democrats picked their governor and lieutenant governor candidates in separate primary elections. Friction between then-Gov. Bill Owens and Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers inspired lawmakers to revise the procedure.)

Polis announced his choice Monday.

After teasing with clues on Twitter for hours, the Boulder congressman said he wants former state Rep. Dianne Primavera, the CEO of the Susan G. Komen Colorado foundation, to be his lieutenant governor. The next morning, the two set out on a “listening tour” of the Western Slope devoted to health care, with stops in Grand Junction, Delta and Durango.

Republicans have ridiculed a Polis rally held last Friday at the state Capitol because his three defeated primary opponents didn’t attend. Democrats insist it was due to scheduling issues, though the GOP say it points to unresolved discord after a testy primary.

Once it became clear that Stapleton wasn’t going to name a running mate any time soon, Democrats and other critics pounced, eager to provide some razzing of their own.

“There are only two possible explanations for why Stapleton won’t say who his pick for lieutenant governor is,” said Eric Walker, a spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party, in a statement. “Either he forgot he needed to choose a running mate by today’s deadline and is lying to cover up yet another violation of the law, or he thinks he plays by a different set of rules from everyone else and feels entitled to hide his running mate from the public.”

Veteran GOP strategist Dick Wadhams, who managed the 1998 campaign for Owens — the last Republican elected governor by state voters — hasn’t sounded very impressed by Stapleton’s campaign so far, and Tuesday’s developments didn’t change his assessment.

“I think the law is confusing,” Wadhams told Colorado Politics. “But the bottom line is, he probably should have been in a position to make the selection and announce it today. Maybe he needed more time. But it does provide another few days of chaos for his campaign.”

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.