Stapleton tops Ament in GOP treasurer’s primary

By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

GREENWOOD VILLAGE — Walker Stapleton, the Republican candidate for state treasurer, exerted cool confidence Tuesday night while leading his primary opponent J.J. Ament by only two percentage points with three quarters of Colorado precincts reporting in. Asked if he were nervous, as a slow trickle of voting results began to knife into his slim lead, Stapleton’s smile disappeared, and he firmly answered “no.” Seconds later, his wry smile returned.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, from his election party for supporters at the Dusty Boot Bar and Grill in Greenwood Village. “It would be a lot easier if I were up 15 points or 15 points down.”

Political consultant Adam Johnson, left, and Walker Stapleton are gleeful over winning the GOP primary for state treasurer over J.J. Ament.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman
J.J. Ament came up short in his bid to advance in the Republican state treasurer race.

Three miles away in the Streets of Southglenn shopping development, Ament, an investment banker, and his campaign staff were sweating the results from his campaign office — located just a few doors down from the Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers patio where his primary party was in full gear. At 9:19 p.m. Ament and his wife Nicole made their first appearance and were welcomed with a full minute of applause.

“It’s going to be a long night and a close election,” Ament told supporters. “I wanted to just come over and say thank you very much to all of you for being here and supporting us. Thank you for everything for all that you have done over the last year for this campaign, it’s been remarkable.”

Both campaigns took different routes to Primary night. Ament won his party’s nomination after knocking challenger Ali Hasan out of the race at the Republican State Assembly, while Stapleton petitioned onto the ballot. The Ament campaign’s budget of $193,000 took their message viral through grassroots volunteers across the state. Stapleton led Ament in fundraising with $485,138 and it was evident in the weeks preceding the primary, with several of his advertisements airing on TV and on the radio.

“The airwaves have gotten saturated with political advertising the last couple of weeks, so our little campaign, it’s hard to compete with airtime with the bigger races,” Stapleton said.

Both candidates had swapped the lead in polls leading up to the election, so the airtime may have been a difference-maker, Stapleton’s campaign director Michael Fortney said.

Ament’s father, Don Ament, who served as a Colorado state representative and senator in the 80s and 90s and most recently served as the Colorado Agriculture Commissioner until his retirement in 2007, said the discrepancy in fundraising during his son’s campaign was a point of frustration.

“These guys (Ament’s campaign staff) were everywhere and they did it on a shoe string budget. These guys worked so hard and were everywhere and his opponent was nowhere,” Ament said. “It just bothers me a little bit that we’re getting to a place where we buy elections.

“I guess my age is showing a little here, but I think people need to know what their candidate looks like, what he says, where he comes from so you really know who you’re voting for rather than seeing them on TV. What does that prove?” he asked.

Just after 10 p.m. Tuesday, Stapleton was quickly ushered outside the party by Fortney. Minutes later Stapleton, clad in a gold sports jacket, white collared shirt and tan pants, came back with his arms stretched over his head in victory. Ament had conceded defeat over the phone. The final results had Stapleton beating Ament 50.8 percent to 49.1 percent, a margin separated by only 6,307 votes.

“(Ament) wished Walker (Stapleton) well in taking on Cary Kennedy in November and looks forward to Republican victories in November,” said Jesse Mallory, Ament’s campaign manager.

With $11,000 cash on hand, Stapleton, the chief executive of real estate company SonomaWest Holdings based in California, now will refocus on fundraising and defeating Kennedy by touting his experience, and pro-business and pro-tax payer message, he said.

“(Kennedy) can expect somebody who has a stark contrast in terms of work experience — somebody who has actually created jobs, not just talked about creating jobs, somebody who has real world business experience, somebody who has had to answer to share holders every single day of their business career — and that’s exactly the contrast that I want to have between somebody who has never had a job outside of government and somebody who has spent their entire career in the private sector,” Stapleton said. “I think the anti-business, taxing and spending mentality down at the legislature has to change and I think the best people to change it are people from outside the system.”

Kennedy’s campaign holds a sizeable cash advantage over Stapleton, having already purchased TV airtime and with $78,185 on hand, according to the Secretary of State.

After the primary results were in, Kennedy’s campaign was already on the offensive.

“Walker Stapleton’s primary victory gives voters such a clear choice in the treasurer’s race — between a risky, unproven candidate, Walker Stapleton, and a proven state treasurer with an excellent record of managing the taxpayers’ money wisely, current treasurer Cary Kennedy,” said Serena Woods, Kennedy’s campaign manager.

Stapleton’s father, Craig Stapleton, who has served as ambassador to France and the Czech Republic under President George H.W. Bush (the younger Stapleton’s cousin), said winning the primary strengthens his son’s campaign heading into the final stretch. The former ambassador also had another race to keep tabs on Tuesday night. He currently serves as campaign chairman for Tom Foley who won the GOP gubernatorial primary in Connecticut the same night.

“All the bad things they can say about you and find out about you are already out there,” said the senior Stapleton from his son’s primary party. “It’s going to be a tough fight in the general election but it should be a strong year for people challenging incumbents.

“When you get used to winning close races, you can end up winning more than one,” he said.

Stapleton, for the most part, avoided the virulent mudslinging that went on between Ament and Hasan early in the race, thanks to his decision to petition on to the ballot rather than go through the caucus system. However, Stapleton was recently criticized by the Ament campaign for skipping debates and forums in favor of business appointments.

“In any given day there’s probably 25 things going on across the state and you physically can’t be at everything,” Fortney said in defense. “There were at least two things that we actually had to cancel and one we had to postpone.”

Fortney said Stapleton has made appearances in at least 300 events with 50 to 70 of those being joint appearances with Ament.

Ament also attacked Stapleton’s stance on tax increases after Stapleton said in a televised debate that he is “not against tax and spend increases,” but “people should have a say.”

Fortney said those quotes were taken out of context and actually meant Stapleton is a staunch supporter of TABOR.

“He’s not saying that he would therefore support the tax increase himself, but he thinks it should be up to Colorado voters to decide,” Fortney said.

Treasurer candidates unite
Ament endorsed Stapleton immediately after conceding. While the state’s GOP establishment struggles to unite following Dan Maes’ surprise gubernatorial victory, all the treasurer candidates knocked out of the race are lining up behind Stapleton.

Hasan, who received only 20.8 percent of the vote at the GOP State Assembly and thereby didn’t qualify for the ballot, released a statement on his website following Stapleton’s victory.

“Although I ran a very aggressive campaign for the GOP nomination of Colorado’s State Treasurer, I had always promised, from the start, that no matter the result, should I not be victorious, not only would I give the maximum contribution to the winning GOP candidate, but I would also give them my full endorsement and support — and that support tonight is going to Walker Stapleton,” Hasan said.

“Contrary to a picture being painted by the Denver news media, when I was running for State Treasurer, I debated Walker Stapleton many times, as he showed up to plenty of events and debates. And I am proud to support Walker because he is intelligent, he has financial experience, and most all, he is HONEST,” said Hasan, who runs a production business as a filmmaker.

Stapleton delivered an emotional victory speech with his wife Jenna at his side Tuesday night.

“I was really proud of the effort that we’ve run because we’ve never compromised our principles, we never compromised what we believed in, we didn’t pander, we stood up for the values that we felt were right from day one and that’s the reason I ran for this office,” Stapleton said.

That was the easy part of his speech. When he started thanking his family and supporters, Stapleton’s voice cracked as he fought off tears.

“You never get anywhere in life without a ton of people behind you and supporting you, and especially in politics. My heart is absolutely overflowing with gratitude for so many people in this room that mean so much to me,” he said.

Family and friends
Tuesday night was a family affair for both Ament and Stapleton. Along with many friends, Ament was surrounded by his wife, parents and three children: 8-year old daughter Elli, and his 5-year old twins Sydney and Sam. While election results were still rolling in, Elli provided a light-hearted moment during the evening when she said to her father, “Don’t ask what happened to my shoes.” She soon revealed that her shoes had gotten too muddy while playing and had to be wrapped up in a plastic sack.

Ament also publically congratulated his campaign manager Jesse Mallory and his wife for giving birth to their son Jonathon last week.

Ament was also looking noticeably thinner, thanks to another campaign he’s embarked on: staying healthy. He said he’s been spending regular time in the gym and has been watching what he eats.

Attorney General John Suthers and Arapahoe County GOP Chair Dave Kerber were two high profile guests who made appearances at Ament’s party. Suthers said he endorsed Ament but would support Stapleton in victory.

At Stapleton’s camp, he was surrounded by four generations of family: his wife, parents, grandmother and 2 year-old son Craig. Stapleton’s grandmother, Katherine Stapleton, 90, once gained notoriety for hosting a KOA radio program called Cooking With Katie.

Stapleton’s wife Jenna, battling a cold she attributes to stress, said she’s enjoyed the roller coaster ride of her husband’s campaign thus far. Sipping on her first cocktail of the night that she promised herself if her husband won, she described the wide array of emotions before an election.

“It was easy to come to terms with winning, but hard to come to terms with losing,” she said. “It’s hard to process those emotions.”

Stapleton also offered special thanks to campaign volunteer Colton Karrigan, a senior political science major at Hastings College, who served as the campaign’s Northern Colorado field director. Colton guided the campaign to victory in Larimer County and nearly surmounted Ament’s geographical hometown advantage in Weld County, losing by one percentage point.

Anthony@coloradostatesman.com