If you don’t think Jared Polis has the advantage over Walker Stapleton in the race to replace John Hickenlooper, your desires might be clouding your ability to see political reality.
It’s little wonder why early polling gives the edge to Polis. The demographic changes to Colorado are making us more like California all the time. This is a pro-choice, pro-pot state that went solidly for Hillary Clinton, and with the exception of Bill Owens, hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1970.
Oh. And then there’s the money. Jared has it.
But money doesn’t always win elections. Stapleton can win, but it requires not only Stapleton himself to do everything perfectly, it requires his friends running 527’s, PAC’s, and Independent Expenditure Committees (IEC’s) to be intensely disciplined.
Unlike Stapleton, and most every major candidate for any office in Colorado, Polis has the very rare opportunity to run his own campaign, you know, like candidates used to do, before Coloradans voted in messed-up campaign finance laws.
A candidate for governor in Colorado can only ask supporters for about $1,100. So, for every million-dollar check Polis writes himself, Stapleton has to beg over 900 supporters for a maximum contribution.
Polis gets to spend all his time campaigning, while Stapleton spends all his time fundraising.
This doesn’t mean team Stapleton won’t also have big bucks. It means Stapleton himself can’t control those big bucks. Those who want to write a big check to Stapleton must write it to a PAC, 527 or IEC that Stapleton not only doesn’t control, but that no one in his campaign, including himself, can even talk to.
In other words, Polis’s campaign is much more likely to stay on message since his team can better sing off the same choir sheet.
It will take only ONE of Stapleton’s well-meaning friends to tube his entire campaign. And in politics well-meaning friends have a habit of using their 527 or IEC to send a message that they are certain will help their friend, only to find it turns off swing voters.
So, Walker’s path to victory is narrow but clear — his friends must swim in a tight lane while he focuses on, well, himself.
His buddies running 527’s and IEC have a simple task — remind voters that Colorado ain’t California just yet. Showing how Polis is way too California for Colorado is their job. A hard-core Boulder progressive elitist dreaming of playing Santa Claus with working families’ money belongs in San Francisco, not our governor’s mansion. Free health care, free kindergarten, free preschool, and all-out war on affordable energy will crush working people with new taxes and regulation. Sure, Richie Rich guys like Polis can afford it, but we can’t.
Walker’s friends must understand the line they cannot cross. Making fun of the goofy rich guy wearing golf shirts with bowties and Mork from Ork outfits is great. But even look like you’re ridiculing Polis for being gay, and you’re walking into a trap. Or should I say you’re pushing your friend Walker into a trap.
In 1992, Amendment 2 was on the ballot. This anti-gay citizen’s initiative prohibited “protected status” for homosexuals. Polling showed it clearly was going to lose. But come election day it passed comfortably. It seemed voters wouldn’t tell pollsters their true feelings about homosexuality. (The U.S. Supreme Court later found Amendment 2 unconstitutional.)
But a lot has changed in 26 years. If anything, Jared’s sexuality is a net positive. Just like many swing voters, who vote less on policy and more on personality, leaned toward Obama to support the first black president, many will do so for the first openly gay governor.
Walker Stapleton has a harder task than his 527 and IEC friends: making himself likeable and accessible, the guy you want to have a beer with.
Elections are, sadly, a popularity contest as candidates fight for those few undecided folks in the middle. “Likability” not policy sways them. Affable Cory Gardner beat angry Mark Uterus. Same for the quirky, loveable Hick versus, well, anyone. Walker must connect on a personal level.
He has rightly made the state’s dangerous and upside-down state pension fund his passion, but by the time he explains that problem the election will be over. He must instead make kitchen table problems like roads and spiraling health care costs his signature.
Or the Colorado transformation into New California could be complete.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.