Walker Stapleton was juggling his race for governor with planning Halloween trick-or-treating for his three kids Wednesday morning.
He joked that he might dress up as liberal U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and his son, Craig, could go as Democratic gubernatorial opponent Jared Polis. “A father-son type deal,” he said with the big laugh of a man feeling no stress.
While polls have shown him trailing in the race in a year expected to favor Democrats, Stapleton said in a Colorado Politics interview all he can do is ask voters to look at his record and what the two campaigns are promising.
Between now and next Tuesday, Stapleton will travel the state reminding voters who he says he is: a guy who likes to laugh and one who has practical, attainable goals for the state. His opponent has high-priced dreams that voters should hope never come true, Stapleton said.
Stapleton is on the road with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, Thursday campaigning on the Western Slope, Pueblo and Greeley. Friday he has events in the Denver metro area, this weekend Republicans are planning an “I-25 Tour,” as the candidate called it, at campaign offices in Fort Collins, Thornton, Lakewood and Highlands Ranch, as well as an Saturday afternoon get-out-the-vote event in Elizabeth.
Polis and the Democrats have had a statewide bus tour the last week to do the same.
“We’ve got to make sure we get our voters to the polls,’” Stapleton said. “The election is going to hinge on turnout, and I firmly believe this election is going to be closer than the political pundits have claimed.”
The last governor, Democrat John Hickenlooper, won with just 49.3 percent of the vote in 2014 and 51 percent in 2010. Stapleton said that tells him every Republican and every moderate unaffiliated voter’s ballot is important. Returned ballots from Republicans and Democrats have been close, so far.
“I think there’s a silent majority of Coloradans who understand what’s at stake, from health care to energy to education in this election,” Stapleton said. “And they recognize the cost, not mythical cost, but actual cost to their business or income by electing someone with Congressman Polis’ plan.”
In a sense, Trump has nationalized this election by constantly being in the news on controversial topics. Polis, Stapleton points out, is a national candidate after a decade in Congress supporting liberal ideas that he will bring to the Governor’s Office.
“I still think the verdict is out on whether it’s a national election, though,” Stapleton said. “I think Coloradans recognize that an election for governor is an election for a chief executive who is going to work with the federal government when the federal government can promote policies that make life better for Coloradans and stand up against misguided policies from the federal government when they don’t.
“You need a governor who will do both. I hope I can remind people that’s not the same as electing somebody to Congress. We’ll find out if that’s the case or not.”
With Gardner at his side, Stapleton will remind voters he supports comprehensive immigration reform. Stapleton is an advocate for doing away with so-called sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants, and he enjoyed the endorsement of immigration firebrand Tom Tancredo.
But Stapleton noted he also supported a bill championed by Gardner and Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet to offer more border security — Trump’s demand for billions more to construct a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico — in exchange for a pathway to citizenship for qualified immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, called Dreamers.
“Hopefully people will separate it,” Stapleton said of his nuanced position on immigration reform.
He said if people look at his policies and record working with Democrats while he was state treasurer, “I really like my chances.”
Gardner said Wednesday he’s excited to campaign with Stapleton. After next Tuesday’s election, he faces his own re-election campaign that culminates in 2020.
“I know he will be a governor that works to make life better for Coloradans in all four corners of our great state,” said Gardner, name-dropping his famous “four corners” plan from his 2014 race. “Walker will be a terrific governor who will put Colorado first and bring economic opportunity to all.”
Democrats hope to build off a blue wave this year by taking down Stapleton, first, with momentum driven by women voters, a bloc energized against President Trump. Stapleton’s wife. Jenna, has built a well-populated coalition called Women for Walker who have reminded women that good governance and a strong economy are what families need more.
Michal Rosenoer, executive director for Emerge Colorado, the state’s largest training organization for Democratic women considering public office, called women “major deciders” this year.
Democratic women were the largest bloc in the Colorado primaries in June, and suburban women could decide the majority in the state Senate next week.
“But it’s not just a response to Trump — the Colorado GOP has never been good for women,” Rosenoer said. “The state Senate GOP has more men named Kevin (Lundberg, Priola and Grantham) in their ranks than women (Vicki Marble and Beth Martinez Humenik).
“And whether it’s fighting family leave and public education funding or joking about the seriousness of sexual assault, the Colorado GOP has proved that they’re not the party that represents or fights for values that matter to women across the state.”
She noted that 26 Emerge alumnae are on the ballot in Colorado next Tuesday, and 12 would be the first woman, first woman of color, first LGBTQ woman or youngest woman to hold that seat.
“We need a government that represents the people, as well as our values,” Rosenoer said. “The Colorado GOP just isn’t getting there by running a slate of primarily conservative white men over and over again.”
Kelly Maher, the executive director of Compass Colorado, a conservative political organization, said both candidates need to speak to his core voters at this point in the race.
“From what we’re seeing in numbers so far, both candidates need to focus on turning out their bases,” she said. “Luckily for Jared Polis, this means he can stop pretending like he wants to talk to anyone outside of his Boulder-Denver bubble.”