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TRAIL MIX | Stapleton, Coffman don’t expect Trump’s help before election

Author: Ernest Luning - August 24, 2018 - Updated: September 10, 2018

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President Donald Trump reacts after speaking during a rally Aug. 21, 2018, in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump is planning an aggressive campaign schedule ahead of the November midterm election to help elect Republicans, but top Colorado candidates — including one who warmly embraced the president on his way to a primary win — say they don’t expect Trump to stump here for them.

Trump intends to log more than 40 days on the trail between the beginning of August and the Nov. 6 general election, White House officials said this week — substantially more than his predecessors in recent decades — in an effort to defy historic trends by warding off the incumbent party’s traditionally heavy losses in a midterm.

But Walker Stapleton, Colorado’s GOP nominee for governor, and Mike Coffman, the incumbent Republican seeking a sixth term in the battleground 6th Congressional District, aren’t counting on Trump’s help to win their races, spokesmen for both candidates told Colorado Politics after the White House announced its plans.

Coffman has long kept Trump at arm’s length — he was the first Republican congressional candidate to distance himself from Trump in a 2016 ad and routinely chastises the president on Twitter. But Stapleton’s stance marks an about-face from the welcome mat he’s rolled out for Trump in recent months.

With just two exceptions since the Civil War, the party that occupies the White House has lost ground in Congress in the midterms — beating the odds only in the first midterm elections after Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush took office.

Trump, whose presidential win confounded expectations, intends to do the same this year. Even as polling points toward a “blue wave” of Democratic enthusiasm building in advance of the election, Trump believes he can beat it by bring to bear his demonstrated talent raising money and turning out his coalition of supporters, the White House officials said. They added that Trump will campaign for Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates across the country.

Although the president has only penciled in rallies through September in states with Senate seats at stake — North and South Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Kentucky and Tennessee — observers shouldn’t assume any states are off the table, White House official familiar with Trump’s thinking told reporters in a conference call.

Trump’s political team plans to use several factors to decide where he will hold rallies, including the most up-to-the-minute polling and Republican candidates’ organizing and fundraising performance, as well as where the president’s coalition appears to be the strongest.

The president wants to win, the officials said, and the path toward a win could include showing up for candidates who might not appear to be likely recipients of his endorsements — including those in states and districts Trump didn’t win, like Colorado.

Stapleton trounced three competitors in a spirited Republican primary that featured arguments and ads that seemed at times to be as much about the gubernatorial candidates’ support for Trump as they were about Colorado issues.

In one ad, Stapleton even boasted he was the only state treasurer in the country to support Trump’s tax cut legislation — and refused to back down when “truth tests” conducted by local media determined Stapleton’s claim was false. (Several Republican state treasurers endorsed the tax plan.)

During a May primary debate sponsored by Colorado Politics, The Gazette and the El Pomar Foundation, Stapleton said he’d be happy to campaign with Trump in Colorado.

“Sure, it’s going to be an all-hands-on-deck effort to beat Jared Polis and the Democrats,” he said, referring to the eventual Democratic gubernatorial nominee. “Bring the president of the United States, who I agree with policy-wise.” Stapleton added that he was a “big supporter” of the Republican tax package.

Asked by Colorado Politics’ Joey Bunch whether he would invite his cousin Jeb Bush and President Trump to appear together at the same event, Stapleton drew laughter when he responded, “Why not? It’s a big tent.”

Stapleton was similarly enthusiastic about a Trump visit in a talk radio interview in June.

“We’ve already been in touch with the White House, and the president will come to Colorado, schedule permitting,” he told KNUS host Steffan Tubbs. “I’ve always welcomed the president to Colorado. He’s the president of the United States. He’s kept us safe, which is the most sacred, solemn duty a president can undertake.”

After White House officials sketched out the president’s midterm travel plans, however, the Stapleton campaign appeared to have given up hope for a Trump rally.

“The president sets his own schedule, and it looks like he is focusing on keeping the House and Senate,” Stapleton’s communications director Jerrod Dobkin wrote in an email.

Dobkin didn’t respond when Colorado Politics asked whether the campaign has been in touch with the White House regarding a Colorado visit by the president, and whether Stapleton would welcome Trump’s appearance at a rally in the state.

A spokesman for the Colorado GOP, likewise, didn’t respond to an inquiry from Colorado Politics regarding Republican Chairman Jeff Hays’ thoughts on a Trump visit in the coming months.

But the Colorado Democrats were happy to weigh in.

“Stapleton won the primary by joining himself at the hip to Donald Trump and his policies,” said Eric Walker, the state Democrats’ spokesman. “But as the walls of a criminal conspiracy close in on Trump, will Stapleton continue to support Trump and campaign with him?”

Coffman’s situation is more complicated.

“Mike is his own man,” Coffman campaign manager Tyler Sandberg told Colorado Politics. “You’ll see him campaigning with mayors and sheriffs and county commissioners, not the president or a bunch of his cabinet members or confidants. The Democrats are normally the ones who roll out the A-list national politicians to our race. In 2016, it was rallies with Bernie Sanders and TV ads featuring Michele Obama. Their vote totals went low. Ours went high.”

Coffman, who won re-election last cycle at the same time Hillary Clinton carried his nearly evenly divided suburban district, is a top target of national Democrats, who need to pick up 23 seats to win control of the House.

Mitch Schwartz, the communications director for Coffman’s Democratic challenger, Jason Crow, mocked Sandberg’s response to a potential Trump appearance.

“Mike Coffman has voted with Donald Trump 96 percent of the time  — more than every other Republican in Colorado’s congressional delegation,” Schwartz wrote in an email. “So whether Rep. Coffman says he wants President Trump to visit or not, the simple truth is that he has earned it.”

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.