Littwin: What to expect in next round of gov race — much more money and much more nasty (Column)
Fair and unbalanced
If you’re still astonished by the amount of money — something over $11 million — that Jared Polis spent to win the Democratic primary for governor, you’ve got maybe a month to get over it.
It’s only then that you’ll begin to see the real money in action. Because the governor’s primary turned out exactly the way everyone thought it would — with Polis set to be locked in a deep-pocketed showdown versus the oil and gas industry.
Yes, if you want to be technical, Walker Stapleton did win the Republican primary Tuesday night. But let’s be honest. Stapleton, who ran a poor campaign against a weak field, will hardly matter in November.
What will matter is the money spent. Stapleton has already tried to call the race David vs. Goliath — with him playing the David role. But David, if I remember my Bible, didn’t have a shekel of oil money in his pocket.
Big oil is scared to death of Polis, he of the anti-fracking initiatives. As political analyst Eric Sondermann tweeted, he wouldn’t be surprised if oil and gas spent $20 million on this campaign. And if we’ve learned anything at all from watching Polis all these years, it’s that no one is going to outspend him.
The money will be obscene. Let’s guess $50 million and not be surprised when it goes higher. And as expensive as the race is going to be, it will probably be just as ugly.
Oil and gas will paint Polis as a tax-raising, Boulder liberal who wants to end the fracking industry, costing Colorado thousands of jobs and who knows how many millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, Stapleton will be going Trump-like against Polis with all campaign talk full of “illegal aliens” and “sanctuary cities.” Here’s a guess — and I bet oil and gas already knows this — that talk doesn’t win in Colorado except in Republican primaries.
Polis will paint Stapleton as an oil-and-gas lackey who is nothing more than a poor man’s excuse for Donald Trump. You’ll recall Stapleton’s awkward embrace of Trump during the primary campaign. Along the way, Stapleton also embraced the genuine poor-man’s Trump — Tom Tancredo himself. He got Tancredo to introduce him at the state assembly after Stapleton’s botched effort to petition onto the ballot. And Tancredo was there at the victory party saying he wanted to contribute however he could.
You could spot the problem immediately when reporters talked to Stapleton after his brief victory speech. When asked if he would want Trump to come to Colorado to campaign for him, Stapleton did exactly what you’d guess. He dodged the question.
We’ve heard for a while that Polis is the candidate Republicans most wanted to face. It makes sense. He is from Boulder, he is easy to caricature and while he fits easily enough into the mainstream of modern progressive thought, he is anti-establishment to his core. And, if you’ve noticed, Democrats have been winning nearly every top-of-the-ballot race in Colorado since 2004 (Cory Gardner being the lone exception) by running very establishment-minded candidates.
And Republicans have had an even worse time running for governor. Bill Owens, who introduced Stapleton and mentioned it was time for another Republican for the job, is the only Republican to have been voted into the office in the last 40 years.
Republicans most feared Mike Johnston, who plays the moderate role well. But Johnston, who came on late, and Cary Kennedy, who came on early, both wound up in the end being no match for Polis and his money. But to give Polis credit, he already made a subtle move toward the center in his victory speech. He talked about his “bold vision” when he always used to say “bold progressive vision.” Has he moved to the center by a third?
But Republicans, in hoping for Polis, may have not factored in the money. Personally, I have problems with rich people buying elections. I know Polis’ argument — that by spending his own money, he’s not beholden to corporate America or anyone else. I have my own counter-argument — that having one candidate who can rely solely on his own money, while his otherwise honest opponents cannot, is not so good for democracy.
Still, I don’t see how the party of Citizens United will have any basis to make this particular argument. And even if they could conceivably find a way, they’d still have to explain how the oil and gas industry and the Koch brothers were righteous partners in this battle.
Vic Mitchell, the self-funded runner-up in the Republican primary, tried to run against Stapleton as a full-blooded member (or cousin anyway) of the Bush dynasty. But I don’t expect Democrats to go there. The president they’ll be citing is the one in the White House now. Trump lost in Colorado in 2016 by five points — one of his biggest losses in the swing-states derby. And I’m pretty sure Trump’s popularity here has not improved.
Morning Consult does state-by-state polling of Trump’s approval ratings. In the last month, Trump was so far underwater that offshore drillers couldn’t find him. He was at 40 percent favorable in Colorado and 56 percent unfavorable.
So, we can guess two things. One, Trump will never show up here. And, two, Stapleton will continue to be asked about it until he finally admits he doesn’t want Trump campaigning for him (we can start the pool on that date now).
Meanwhile, we can count on a lull over the next month when the campaign ads slow down and the phone calls stop. You’d better enjoy it, because if you think it has been bad so far, just wait. It will be much, much worse.
Mike Littwin writes a column for the Colorado Independent. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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