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EDITORIAL: Republicans should clear the field for Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton

By: The Gazette editorial board
January 14, 2018 Updated: January 14, 2018 at 10:11 am
Caption +
In this Nov. 4, 2014 photo, newly-reelected Republican Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton speaks to supporters during the GOP election night gathering, in Denver, Colo. Stapleton is to take the oath of office for a second term on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

If Republicans hope to elect a governor this fall, they need to narrow the primary field and unite behind State Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

The GOP begins with overwhelming odds against winning the governor's race. A crowded, divisive primary only escalates the party's growing challenges.

Republicans have won two of Colorado's past 11 gubernatorial elections, and occupied the office only eight of 42 years.

The chances of statewide Republican victories grow smaller by the week, as young, educated, urban professionals and marijuana migrants populate the Front Range. The GOP and its candidates have an abysmal record of courting the state's growing Hispanic population.

As of 2016, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans for the first time in 32 years — by a margin of 20,000 and growing.

"Latinos and people with college degrees are moving here in droves, and these are all Democratic-leaning groups," said a CNN story in October 2016, explaining the likelihood of Colorado becoming reliably blue.

The article quoted Lynn Bartels, spokeswoman for Republican secretary of state Wayne Williams and a longtime political reporter for the Denver Post.

"Population on the Front Range is exploding — that's where you have more of a concentration of Democrats," Bartels said.

"We have San Francisco-style rents here, almost. I walk by parts of the cities that used to be ghost towns and now there's lines of young people ready to party and go out."

In this environment, Republicans will win statewide office only when they offer exceptionally well-qualified candidates, nominated in nondestructive primaries. They cannot win with candidates beaten and battered by primary fights that make them say and do stupid things to secure special interest constituencies.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner enjoyed a clear primary field in 2015, when Republicans weren't outnumbered by Democrats, and barely defeated an embattled Democrat who ran a weak campaign.

Republicans enter 2018 with a field of nine candidates declared for the governor's race. Democrats, in an increasingly favorable environment, begin the year with six declared candidates.

A Braynard Group poll in September showed former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo as the clear leader among the Republican pack. He obtained 22 percent support. Stapleton scored 8.5 percent, and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman registered at 6 percent. Businessman and former one-term State Representative Victor Mitchell received 1 percent. Businessman Doug Robinson, the nephew of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, received 0.3 percent.

One thing is not likely to change. Tancredo's loyal constituency of like-minded supporters will keep him polling in the low-to-mid 20s, with or without a vigorous and well-funded campaign.

He is a niche candidate with a single message. A discussion about roads and bridges, water, energy, or state finance, invariably returns to his stark views about federal immigration enforcement.

Several of the other candidates pitch mostly interchangeable platforms, lack substantial public service, and share the uphill battle of achieving name recognition.

Coffman has won state office but has failed to launch a primary campaign that shows promise of traction. If Tancredo gets only 22 percent of the primary vote, eight other candidates divide up the remaining 78 percent. The winner in a nine-way race will enter the primary with scars inflicted by eight opponents.

If Tancredo wins the primary, even his most loyal supporters should know he cannot win the general.

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who trashed President Donald Trump and his family in a tell-all book, met with Tancredo last year in his quest to recruit candidates.

Few Republicans, including Trump fans, will support a perceived Bannon candidate in the general election.

Tancredo contemplated his gubernatorial run because the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs canceled a conference by the white nationalist organization VDARE, which had invited him to speak. His defense of VDARE won't fly among soccer moms, young professionals, Hispanics, moderates of all backgrounds, and mainstream conservatives. It is a deal killer.

Stapleton, a traditional conservative, has what it takes to win statewide office again. A former business executive with an MBA from Harvard, he has earned name recognition and has a host of leadership accomplishments to run on.

Stapleton led the crusade to defeat an irresponsible billion-dollar tax proposal, Amendment 66, in 2013. He called out the Department of Transportation for spending $150 million on new offices, while neglecting basic highway maintenance and upgrades. He led the charge against a proposal for socialized health care that would have raised annual taxes by at least $25 billion. Stapleton has served as the lone voice of responsibility and reason on the board of the state's Public Employees Retirement Association, doing the hard work of protecting public pensions and taxpayers far into the future. He holds state agencies accountable for responsible stewardship of taxpayer assets.

As a young, articulate professional with proven leadership skills, Stapleton can appeal to urban and rural voters of all demographics. The electorate mostly wants good results, and Stapleton has a record of delivering them.

Republicans have an unusual opportunity to elect a governor this year. Stapleton's primary contenders would do themselves and their party a favor by selflessly clearing the field and helping him win against the odds.

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