Trail Mix: Can’t keep track? Follow the string


I’LL SEE YOUR BERNIE AND RAISE A JOYCE FOSTER … The battle of the bold-faced names is on in the House District 9 Democratic primary, where three-term incumbent state Rep. Paul Rosenthal is facing two candidates seeking to dislodge him from the southeast Denver seat.

Less than a week had passed since Bernie Sanders — yes, that Bernie Sanders — endorsed Rosenthal challenger Emily Sirota when Rosenthal rolled out a Bernie endorsement of his own from Bernie Steinberg — yes, that Bernie Steinberg — to counter it.

“While one of Rosenthal’s opponents may have the endorsement of a national Bernie who won’t be voting in the caucus on March 6,” Rosenthal’s campaign said in a press release, “Rosenthal has the support of a particularly long-time and well known HD9 Democratic activist also named Bernie, namely Bernie Steinberg.”

But that wasn’t all.

Rosenthal also wanted the world to know that he has the support of former state Sen. Joyce Foster, Denver Councilwoman Kendra Black, Denver Public Schools board member Anne Rowe and RTD Director Claudia Folska, whose districts all share constituents with Rosenthal.

Rosenthal, who saw a sexual harassment complaint against him dismissed last month by legislative leadership because the alleged behavior took place before he was first elected, also unfurled the endorsements of some fellow Democratic legislators. They include state Sen. Angela Williams and state Reps. James Coleman, Dan Pabon, Edie Hooton and Donald Valdez. Sirota counts state Rep. Joe Salazar, an early Sanders endorser who is also running for attorney general, in her corner.

Both candidates have announced plenty of other backers, too.

Longtime activist and policy advocate Ashely Wheeland is also vying for the nomination. With caucuses fast approaching, Wheeling and Sirota have pulled petitions, but word is they’re what might be considered petition-curious rather than fully committed, potentially gathering signatures as a back-up, and are also considering going through assembly for a spot on the June primary ballot.

There’s a lot of that going around this cycle.

ENDORSEMENTS? PFFT! … Sirota and Rosenthal certainly aren’t the only candidates piling up endorsements in hotly contested primaries. Just in the last week or so, Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Cary Kennedy, Mike Johnston and Jared Polis have all received some big-time seals of approval for their respective candidacies — but prominent conservative crusader Kelly Maher isn’t impressed.

Quite the contrary. In a fusillade of press releases and some follow-up conversation with Trail Mix, Maher made clear she believes the Dems’ string of powerful endorsements point to brewing trouble in the field.

Just hours after Colorado Politics reported that Kennedy had won the unanimous endorsement of the state’s big-deal teachers unions, the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado component of the American Federation of Teachers, Maher offered a gloomy take on the news.

“With each day that goes by it seems like the deep divisions of Democrats become more apparent as Republicans become more solidified,” Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado, inveigled. “This stands in stark contrast to what we’ve seen in cycles past. Ultimately, this shows the lack of leadership or clear vision from the left.”

Her point, she told Trail Mix, was that the GOP gubernatorial field appeared to be uniting around State Treasurer Walker Stapleton in the wake of Republican frontrunner Tom Tancredo’s exit from the race a day earlier, while the Democrats seemed no closer to picking a candidate to rally behind to keep the governor’s mansion.

The next morning, when Colorado Politics reported that Johnston was bringing Facebook COO and author Sheryl Sandberg to town to launch his “Women for Mike” coalition, you could almost hear Maher shout, “Aha!”

“Sandberg’s endorsement is further evidence that Democrats are deeply divided and are no closer to coalescing around a leader,” quoth Maher.

She didn’t even need to issue a release when Polis announced the backing of several dozen Latino leaders a couple days later. Nor a few days after that, when former three-term Gov. Dick Lamm endorsed Johnston, saying he’d “never seen a candidate with more promise.” Nor the next day, when the powerful Denver-based Pipefitters Local 208 union endorsed Polis — perhaps helping make Maher’s point, since the Colorado Springs-baed Pipefitters Local 58 union had already endorsed Kennedy.

But regular Maher sparring partner Ian Silverii, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado — it’s something like Compass Colorado, only with hundreds of members ready to show up and protest when the Bat Signal is displayed  — wondered whether Maher might be rushing to judgment in an effort to stoke division among Democrats.

“I’d be curious to know if the 10 Republican candidates for governor agree with my friend Kelly’s assessment that the GOP is united behind one candidate, and who she thinks that is,” Silverii told Trail Mix. “Victor Mitchell has $2 million in a bank account that says otherwise.”

In addition to Stapleton and Mitchell, the two best-funded GOP candidates, other Republicans seeking the nomination for governor include Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, former investment banker Doug Robinson, Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, former Denver County Trump campaign co-chair Steve Barlock and activists Jim Rundberg, Erich Braun and Teri Kear. The way things are looking, at least four and potentially more are likely to make the primary ballot.

The last time an arbiter from the right attempted to declare the field should congeal around Stapleton, the backlash from nearly all quarters was furious.

Maher is right that the Democrats have tended to pick a candidate early for top-ticket races in recent decades, rather than spend the run-up to the primary — and sometimes months after — battling it out, like the Republicans have made a habit of doing.

It’s been eight years since the last major statewide Democratic primary blow-out, when former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff took on appointed U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and it’s been fully two decades since the Democrats fought over who got the gubernatorial nod. (In that race, then-Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler won out over then-state Sen. Mike Feeley.)

Conversely, Republicans can only point to a couple of times in the past 20 years when their candidates for top statewide offices didn’t brawl all the way to the primary election — when Gov. Bill Owens and U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard ran for reelection in 2002 and in 2014, when Cory Gardner got in the race at the last minute and went on to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.

Considering those are the only three times Republicans have taken the top-ticket statewide race in the last nine cycles — Democrats won the U.S. Senate race four times and the governor’s contest three times over the same period — perhaps Maher is onto something.

NOT QUITE AN ENDORSEMENT, BUT … Last week, Trail Mix revealed that one-time Democratic attorney general candidate Michael Dougherty was the potential Dem most feared by likely GOP AG nominee George Brauchler’s camp, although the Brauchler folks were breathing a bit easier because Dougherty had just suspended his campaign in order to apply for an appointment as Boulder County’s district attorney.

Dougherty, GOP insiders told Trail Mix, has a reputation as a “prosecutor’s prosecutor” — remember that phrase — and would be the most formidable opponent in a field that also includes Salazar, former University of Colorado Law School dean Phil Weiser, attorney Brad Levin and former federal prosecutor Amy Padden.

This week, Brauchler — the elected district attorney for Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties — doubled down and made clear what he thinks about Dougherty, the assistant district attorney for Jefferson and Gilpin counties. (Dougherty lives in Boulder and is one of at least three applicants to fill the vacancy created by DA Stan Garnett’s pending resignation.)

Brauchler was making a point about the importance of making good hires while addressing members of the Foothills Republicans at the club’s monthly meeting Thursday at Pinehurst Country Club in Lakewood. His former boss, Jeffco District Attorney Pete Weir, who was in the audience, had made a good hire when he tapped Dougherty, Brauchler said.

“Michael Dougherty is sort of running for attorney general and would be the second-best candidate in that race, but he has thrown his hat in the ring for Boulder district attorney, and I tell you what, he’d be an outstanding district attorney for Boulder, Democrat or Republican,” Brauchler said.

“Mike is a prosecutor’s prosecutor, and he has been Pete’s No. 2 since Pete took office as district attorney. And that doesn’t happen by accident. People don’t just show up at an office and say, ‘Hey, I want to work here.’ They’re drawn to talent, they’re drawn to good leadership. Pete, my hat’s off to you for continuing to set the bar so high for district attorney.”

SLOGAN WATCH … A few minutes later in his remarks, Brauchler was talking about the Arapahoe County coroner’s office and then stopped for a moment to address Thomas Weldon, the Republican candidate for Jefferson County coroner.

“It’s something that just occurred to me,” Brauchler said. “I think you could start saying, ‘We put the “dead” in dedicated.’ I don’t know, I just came up with that.”

The crowd appeared to split between guffaws and groans.

Brauchler shrugged, adding that Weldon was welcome to use the slogan but might give it some thought, based on the reaction.

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