COVER STORY | Stapleton fields a campaign team with deep Colorado ties

 

Michael Fortney hunkered over a laptop computer screen at a standing desk in his sixth-floor office, perched near Colorado Boulevard and Interstate 25, the Denver hub of Republican Walker Stapleton’s campaign for governor.

With stark lighting from the wall-sized window at his back, a white board covers much of the wall to his right, filled with scribbled bits of strategy and logistics. Fortney, Stapleton’s campaign manager, pointlessly asks a visitor not to read it.

Everything on the wall and everything on the collective mind of Team Stapleton is about one thing: beating Democratic nominee Jared Polis, the Boulder congressman and tech millionaire.

“At this point, an unfortunate amount of time is spent juggling schedules and prioritizing Walker’s time,” Fortney told Colorado Politics. “For our campaign, we also have to keep up with Polis’ fundraising. It takes him 10 minutes to raise $10 million. It takes us a hell of a lot longer than that.”

Check back with ColoradoPolitics.com later today for a look at Team Polis.

Polis’ campaign has raised north of $12.4 million, with much of it donated by the candidate, a wealthy former e-commerce entrepreneur. Stapleton is at about $2.5 million, including about $1 million from his own pocket.

The campaign manager has his hands in every different aspect of the campaign, but everyone pitches in to solve whatever problem is at hand, Fortney said.

“It’s (like being) the CEO of a very small startup,” Fortney said. “You have to raise funds, you have to run the business. But then the startup is only open for one day, and that’s Election Day.

“You don’t get a chance to go back and change your sales process. You get one chance on one day, and the outcome is binding.”

Fortney is a campaign veteran from numerous states and often is singled out by Republicans and Democrats alike as one of the best in the political business in Colorado.

He served as campaign manager and senior consultant for Stapleton’s state treasurer races in 2010 and 2014, and his resume is long: Founding partner at Clear Creek Strategies in Denver, where he has led grassroots advocacy and media campaigns on energy, banking and immigration. Campaign and senior political consultant to U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton. Congressional staffer for U.S. Rep. Ted Poe of Texas. And manager of several campaigns in the Lone Star State.

He’s surrounded himself with people he’s worked with before, who have deep roots in Colorado or came to the team with a GOP pedigree.

Stapleton thinks Fortney assembled what is truly a team, people who work together well around a single goal.

“I’ve got a loyal team that’s been with me a long time that I have the utmost trust and confidence in,” he said in an interview during a campaign event in Greenwood Village. “… I think it translates when you have a staff that’s experienced in statewide races in Colorado, and this is the most important statewide race in Colorado.”

More than their resume, however, Fortney said he values work ethic most.

“We have quality people who are more interested in doing stuff than sitting around talking all day,” he said.

Campaign spokesman Jerrod Dobkin joined the team in June. Before that he worked for U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner for three years, starting as an intern for in 2015 and eventually serving as deputy press secretary.

Finance director Hillary Prendergast was the chief fundraiser on Stapleton’s 2014 re-election race for state treasurer. She co-founded the well-regarded Westbrooke Group PR and fundraising operation in Denver with Monica Owens Beauprez in 2015.

“I think you’ve seen what Hillary has become statewide,” Fortney said of Westbrooke’s prowess. “We made the right call then, and we’re lucky to have her own the team again.”

In 2012, Prendergast served as the events director for the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan campaign in Colorado. Before that, she worked in governmental affairs in Missouri, leading fundraising efforts for a variety of clients, including statewide, congressional, presidential and municipal races.

Political director Ian Lindemann was the campaign manager for Victor Mitchell, the runner-up to Stapleton in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

He has been working at the highest levels of statewide campaigns since — as he helped Gardner win his first seat in Washington, by bumping off incumbent U.S. Rep Betsy Markey in the eastern Colorado’s 4th Congressional District in 2010.

Lindemann served as the Colorado director for the Republican National Committee for two cycles. He previously worked on gubernatorial, congressional, mayoral and issue campaigns in Colorado, Virginia, Louisiana and Missouri.

“He is the most experienced guy in the state doing this, and we’re so lucky he was willing and able to come on after Vic’s campaign,” Fortney said. “And it’s another good sign Republicans are united and understand that we need an all-hands-on-deck effort to make sure Jared Polis doesn’t buy this race.”

Lindemann said he was excited to join up, after Mitchell’s second-place finish in the primary.

“We obviously had a fun and contested primary, but this is the single most consequential election facing Colorado in decades,” he said. “And we have such a stark contrast here between positions of Walker Stapleton and Jared Polis. I’ve known Walker for awhile, and I think he’ll make a great governor.”

Jay McChesney, field director, was Fortney’s second-in-command on U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s Congressional District 3 re-election campaign two years ago.

He was a legislative assistant and policy analyst for the Colorado Senate for two sessions.

“He’s been able to do the job of, like, five people.” Fortney said of McChesney. “The great thing about Jay is he’s done everything I’ve asked, and he just gets it done. He always does a quality job.”

McChesney works with Lindemann to coordinate with county offices to line up local volunteers to knock on doors and put out yard signs, and the myriad of other efforts that ripple across the state during a campaign.

“We know people and have relationships out there,” Fortney said of his team’s ties outside the metro Denver region.

Tall and gregarious, Fortney speaks with confidence and optimism, important traits in a leader.

He isn’t daunted at all by what’s expected to be a blue wave of Democratic voters this November, the backlash to President Donald Trump and an attempt to flip one or both chambers of Congress to thwart his policies.

“I don’t think that trickles down to a race for governor,” Fortney said. “I think that Coloradans have proven they have the ability to vote for the candidate and for the idea, not necessarily for the party. I think that puts us in a very good position.”

Dick Wadhams, the former state Republican Party chair, is a master of campaigns over his decades-long career as a campaign manager in Colorado and other states. He put the last Republican in office, Gov. Bill Owens, who finished his second term in 2007.

Having the right team for a major statewide race is “absolutely critical,” Wadhams said.

“The very best candidate still can’t win without the support of a good campaign team,” he said.

Team Stapleton

Michael Fortney, campaign manager

Hillary Prendergast, finance director

Jerrod Dobkin, communications director

Ian Lindemann, political director

Lizzie Coombs, deputy finance director

 

Jay McChesney, field director

Kevin Schoelzel, policy director

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