Three of the Republicans running for governor — Walker Stapleton, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson — are planning to petition their way onto Colorado’s primary ballot, their campaigns tell Colorado Politics, potentially leaving GOP voters with as many as a half dozen candidates to choose from in June.
Candidates can begin gathering petition signatures Tuesday and have until March 20 to turn them in. In order to advance to the June 26 primary, statewide candidates must collect 10,500 signatures from members of their own party — 1,500 from each of the state’s seven congressional districts — or win the support of at least 30 percent of delegates to the major parties’ state assemblies, which are both slated this year for April 14.
Five of the six other Republicans running for governor have said they plan to go through the caucus-and-assembly process: U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, Trump campaign veteran organizer Steve Barlock and activist Jim Rundberg.
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment about her intentions. Political observers say it’s more than likely she’ll pursue the ballot via assembly, however, noting that she hasn’t had a petition format approved by state officials for circulation and so far hasn’t demonstrated the kind of fundraising strength required to ensure a successful statewide petition drive.
While it’s typical that one or two candidates make it out of assembly, it’s possible that as many as three candidates can qualify for a primary if they each receive just over 30 percent of the vote. The candidate who wins the most votes at assembly earns top-line on the primary ballot.
It’s been a while since a major statewide candidate in Colorado has tried to petition and failed — last cycle, all four Republican U.S. Senate candidates who tried petitioning their way onto the ballot made it, although some had to go to court to force election officials to OK enough signatures — so if all three petitioners qualify, and two or three candidates make the GOP primary through assembly, that could mean five or six names on the primary ballot.
“Our team is in place, and we are excited to get after it next week,” Robinson, a retired investment advisor who happens to be Mitt Romney’s nephew, told Colorado Politics in an email after election officials at the Colorado secretary of state’s office announced they had approved Robinson’s petition format.
Stapleton’s campaign manager said the state treasurer is traveling to a half dozen counties this week “and we are going to continue to keep our heads down and work hard.”
Stapleton got on the primary ballot by petition when he first ran for state treasurer in 2010 — and went on to win the GOP nomination over primary rival JJ Ament, who went through the assembly process.
A spokesman for Mitchell confirmed that the businessman and former state lawmaker is preparing to circulate petitions.
It’s probably no coincidence that the three are also leading the GOP gubernatorial field in fundraising. According to political consultants, petition-gathering firms are charging statewide candidates a pretty penny this year — as much as $250,000, although some campaigns say they’ve negotiated less pricey contracts.
While none of the candidates had filed campaign finance reports for the most recent quarter at press time — reports aren’t due to the secretary of state until Tuesday at midnight — Mitchell, who has so far poured at least $3 million into his own campaign, reported $2.3 million cash on hand at the end of the quarter ending Sept. 30, and Robinson had roughly $185,000 in the bank in his last report. Stapleton has raised roughly $750,000 and pumped $250,000 into his campaign since entering the race in late September, his campaign says.
By comparison, Barlock, Gaiter, Lopez and Rundberg each reported less than $2,500 on hand at the end of the last quarter. Tancredo and Coffman didn’t get in the race until November and haven’t reported fundraising totals yet.
The Stapleton campaign has engaged Colorado Springs-based Kennedy Enterprises to run its petition-gathering campaign, a spokesman said. Robinson’s campaign is using The Signature Gathering Company, the aptly named outfit run by Colorado- and Ohio-based Olson Strategies and Oregon-based Triton Polling. Mitchell’s petition drive will be supervised by the Denver-based Hackstaff & Snow law firm with assistance from Lincoln Strategy Group, which has offices in Phoenix, London and Barcelona.