As Republican candidates for Colorado governor introduced themselves to the electorate Tuesday night at a debate held by The Denver Post, the two top fundraisers were conspicuously absent and drew fire from opponents.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former Congressman Tom Tancredo have raised more money than any of the other four candidates, but both declined to participate in the debate.
Greg Brophy, a farmer and state Senator, said the GOP learned the hard way in 2010 that it needs to vet candidates before the general election, specifically calling out Gessler for a recent flap over his office budget and questioning Tancredo's Second Amendment support.
Which is precisely the sort of "debating" that Gessler and Tancredo hoped to avoid by skipping the event.
Rory McShane, campaign manager for Gessler, said Gessler and Tancredo have a gentlemen's agreement not to attack each other. McShane said they would be willing to participate in future events that involve "legitimate candidates."
And Brian Dotterer, campaign manger for Tancredo, said the debates aren't helpful and "more often than not the Republican candidates emerge from the primary so bruised and battered from fighting each other that it weakens candidates and gives Democrats fodder in the general election cycle."
The winner of the primary on June 24 will face incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.
Aside from some early criticism of the two absentees, the debate was mostly cordial.
Brophy sold himself as a Toyota Prius-driving farmer who can unite the state - noting he's the only Republican who has visited every county and who knows how to run a small business.
Mike Kopp, former state Senate minority leader, demonstrated his command of state politics, policy and government.
He advocated for greater efficiency in schools to make better use of resources already allocated and got into the weeds on transportation policy, accusing the state of funneling money from vital roads projects for years.
"My leadership is focused on one thing: empowering individuals and not government," Kopp said, adding he'd keep low taxes, cut government, champion Second Amendment rights and fight the Affordable Care Act.
Steve House, a health-care consultant and chair of the Adams County Republican Party, said he's not a politician.
"People are tired of politicians," House said. "We're appealing to people who want something different than an everyday kick-the-can-down-the-road candidate."
He wants to take a holistic approach to Colorado problems - fixing the economy and schools together - and repeatedly pointed to the growing energy industry as the salvation for budget woes and as a way to do away with unpopular business personal property taxes.
And Jason Clark, a personal money manager who went to West Point Military Academy, distinguished himself by how he answered questions.
Clark refused to answer a question other candidates answered about who he'd endorse if he doesn't get the GOP nod for the general election, saying he's a winner.
And a question about whether he's worried about being behind in the fundraising race garnered this response:
"I'm single and independently wealthy," Clark said.
On policy questions, Clark repeatedly said he was the only candidate who was saying "how" he'd do things but then directed people to his website to find out.
And after he'd apologized for comments he made on Facebook after the Arapahoe High School shooting in December - he referred to people hiding under desks - he thanked the moderators for the question with a hint of sarcasm.
Contact Megan Schrader