Election 2018FeaturedNews

PRIMARY 2018: Colorado’s winners and losers

Author: Joey Bunch, Marianne Goodland and Ernest Luning - June 29, 2018 - Updated: July 5, 2018

As viewed through a fisheye lens, Eric Syverson, an intern at the Denver Elections Division, pulls a tray of ballots to be counted as they arrive at the elections headquarters early June 26 in Denver. Multiple statewide races are at stake in the primary election. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

A scorecard of who soared and who soured in the Colorado party primary that ended Tuesday:


Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton: Presumed frontrunners from the beginning lived up to their billing, turning back the largest field of primary challengers in either party since at least World War II. And they both played to their bases, the hard left and hard right. Both survived runs at their integrity in negative ads, but proved they could use their own campaign treasure to push back.

Brianna Titone
Brianna Titone (photo courtesy of the campaign)

LGBTQ Coloradans: Polis is the first openly gay candidate for Colorado governor, which has brought out the pride among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Coloradans. In Arvada, transgender candidate Brianna Titone was the only Democrat in the race, setting up a November showdown with incumbent Republican Lang Sias.

“What’s more incredible is our unique opportunity to increase LGBTQ representation in office, including Colorado’s first openly gay governor and the first transgender person in the state legislature, along with the many other openly LGBTQ candidates running for office across Colorado,” One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization said in a statement.

George Brauchler: The Arapahoe County-area district attorney cinched the GOP nomination for attorney general without a challenger, while Phil Weiser eked out a win over Bernie Sanders acolyte Joe Salazar. In a state that typically elects Republicans as its top prosecutor, that puts Brauchler in a good position for November, barring a landslide election for Democrats.

Moreover, Stapleton’s awkward stumbles in the governor’s race to date had plenty of GOP insiders asking whether the party would have been better off with Brauchler was the more polished of the two who dropped out of the governor’s race to run for AG. All this sets up Brauchler, the prosecutor in the Aurora theater shooting case, as a strong contender for the state’s highest office in the future.

Independent expenditure committees: At the gubernatorial level, as much as $10 million was spent by IECs in both primaries in June alone. The spending by these groups, sometimes with donors hidden from public disclosure, changed the face of this year’s primary election.

At the legislative level, they spent more than $800,000, with more than $250,000 for just one candidate: Democrat Zach Neumann in the south Denver’s Senate District 32. Neumann lost in a squeaker to Robert Rodriguez, however. But virtually every other legislative candidate supported by groups such as Democrats for Education Reform (backed by New York hedge fund managers) and two IECs  controlled by the medical liability insurer COPIC won their races — demonstrating that, quite often, you get what you pay for.

Partisanship: Republicans were more conservative than usual and Democrats were more liberal than typical this time around. Republican candidates for governor marched to President Donald Trump’s beat on immigration, tax policy and gun rights, while Democrats blew the primary trumpets for renewable energy, reproductive rights and everything wrong with Trump. That will give voters clear choices in November, unless the talking points moderate over the summer to reach that crucial slice of swing voters in the middle.

Legalized marijuana: Colorado’s booming weed industry let loose a collective cheer after Polis and Stapleton had been declared the winners in their primaries for governor. Polis, who won an endorsement from The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws PAC and financial backing from pot dispensaries, has long been seen as a national champion for legal recreational and medical marijuana. But Stapleton, too, as industry insiders told Colorado Politics, is seen as basically friendly to Colorado’s regulatory regime and is, in the words of one dispensary spokesman, someone they can do business with.

Joe Neguse: The Democrat and former University of Colorado regent moved a giant step closer to becoming Colorado’s first black member of Congress. He won easily over former Boulder County Democratic Party chairman Mark Williams in the Boulder County-based 2nd Congressional District race. Sitting in a very safe seat for Democrats, Neguse faces Republican Peter Yu and unaffiliated candidate Nick Thomas on the general election ballot.

Cary Kennedy makes a point during a gubernatorial candidate debate sponsored by Never Again Colorado at Manual High School Saturday, May 19, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


The teachers union: The Colorado Education Association, the union for public school teachers, endorsed second-place Democrat Cary Kennedy, they spent heavily and ran attack ads against the ultimate winner, Polis. That’s going to leave a mark at a time when the union needs all the friends it can get under the Capitol’s gold dome.

Polis founded two charter schools, a leaning that rankled the union activists yet could help him attract moderate voters who lean toward school choice, while a $1.6 billion tax increase for schools could still occupy a spot on the same ballot as Polis in November.

The anti-establishment: From Levi Tillemann’s loss to newcomer Jason Crow in the 6th Congressional District and Saira Rao’s crushing defeat by incumbent Diana DeGette in the 1st, Joe Salazar’s close-but-not-enough bid to topple fundraising giant Phil Weiser in the Democratic attorney general’s primary, to the inability of Republicans Greg Lopez and Victor Mitchell to knock off Stapleton, Tuesday was not a day for those claiming to be outsiders. Time and again, the anointed establishment favorite was also favored by voters.

Clean Campaign Pledge: Riding on the coattails of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s two wins while eschewing attack ads, Democrats took the party’s pledge to keep it civil last year. That oath became dust in the wind as the heated gusts of campaign politics. By the end, Polis and Kennedy had each filed complaints about negative ads with the state party, and Mike Johnston was seeking retractions for ads against him. Campaign promises are meant to be broken.

Candidates with histories of racially-insensitive remarks: Three legislative candidates who have been criticized for racially insensitive or racist comments all lost Tuesday: incumbent Reps. Judy Reyher of Swink and Phil Covarrubias of Brighton, as well as Republican candidate Ray Garcia, who lost to Rep. Lois Landgraf of Colorado Springs.

In this June 19, 2018, file photograph, Republican candidate for Colorado’s governorship, Victor Mitchell, gestures to supporters during a televised debate in Denver. Colorado’s primary election to determine which candidate will earn the Republican nomination is set for next Tuesday, June 26. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Most self-funders: Polis put more than $11 million and Stapleton put about $1 million of their own money into their campaigns , and it paid off with a nomination. GOP treasurer candidate Brian Watson, likewise, parlayed some of his personal fortune into a spot on the November ballot.

Others weren’t as lucky, led by Republican Victor Mitchell, who loaned around $5 million to his campaign, only good enough for second place.

Statewide and congressional candidates who contributed to or loaned their campaign big bucks but came up short also include Doug Robinson, Donna Lynne, Cary Kennedy — who sunk $100,000 into her race at the last minute — Saira Rao, Bernard Douthit, Justin Everett and Greg Lopez.

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.