Stapleton tops Treasurer Kennedy in highly negative campaign

By Anthony Bowe

Fresh off his victory in Colorado’s priciest race for state treasurer, Republican Walker Stapleton is promising to find common ground with Governor-elect John Hickenlooper while maintaining trust with the taxpayers who elected him.

“John is a friend and I have a lot of respect for his accomplishments, particularly in the private sector,” said Stapleton while driving on a post-election vacation with his wife Jenna and young son Craig a couple days after Tuesday’s election. “I was independently elected to be a statewide elected official and I’m going to seek common ground to agree with him when we can agree and do what’s right and do what’s best for Colorado.

“We’re in a huge budget hole here and it’s going to take Republican minds and Democrat minds and people working together to find a way to dig us out of this,” he said.

State Treasurer-elect Walker Stapleton makes his victory speech late on Election Night as his wife Jenna proudly watches.
Photo by Pete Heacox/The Colorado Statesman
Colorado State Treasurer-elect Walker Stapleton hits the stage to deliver his victory speech at the Republican Party victory party.
Photo by Pete Heacox/The Colorado Statesman
Stapleton pumps his fist in celebration.
Photo by Pete Heacox/The Colorado Statesman
State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, right, encourages a crowd of Democrats not to give up hope even as early returns show
her trailing Republican challenger Walker Stapleton at an election night party Nov. 2 at the Marriott City Center. Her husband, Saurabh Mangalik, and her children, Kadin and Kyra (not shown) joined her on stage.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Kennedy watches election results come in on the television in her hotel room in Denver on Tuesday night.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Cary Kennedy, the Democratic incumbent who served one term after being elected in 2006, conceded to Stapleton while trailing by two percentage points early Wednesday morning. Kennedy left a message congratulating Stapleton.

“Walker has my full support, and I ask you to give him your full support as he works for all of the people of this state,” Kennedy told supporters in a letter Wednesday.

The race, which saw the candidates spend a combined $1,872,041, turned predominately negative in the weeks before the election.

After Stapleton revealed in October that he’d received a DUI conviction in 1999, the Kennedy campaign released a controversial ad questioning his integrity for not mentioning the DUI earlier. The ad stated that Stapleton also received a hit-and-run charge with the DUI, but failed to mention the charge was dropped. Stapleton rebutted the ad and issued a counter-attack questioning Kennedy’s record on the PERA board.

Serena Woods, Kennedy’s campaign manager, said Kennedy doesn’t regret running the ad.

“She felt that Stapleton and the media hadn't done a good enough job verifying these events. It was really about disclosure,” Woods said.

Stapleton and Kennedy both said that campaign disagreements are secondhand to moving Colorado forward collectively.

“Unfortunately there were some things that happened, especially in the last week in the campaign, that I wasn’t a big fan of,” Stapleton said. “But I think it’s important to move on beyond the campaign stage into a governing stage, or like I say a ‘get the job done phase.’”

Stapleton said his transition team is already receiving applications from prospects seeking the deputy treasurer position.

“I’m looking for somebody who can complement my analytical private sector business and finance background. Ideally the individual has public sector finance experience and, just as importantly, understands the functioning of Colorado state government,” Stapleton said.

In the race, Kennedy outspent Stapleton $986,000 to $885,000. Woods said that Stapleton’s fundraising abilities pushed Kennedy to raise as much as possible.

“I think that being up against a self-funder with a large fundraising network from across the nation motivated us,” Woods said.

Kennedy made a late online fundraising push toward the end of her campaign to gain whatever edge she could over Stapleton. She received $30,000 in four days in the Bust the Bonus campaign, which was named to poke fun at Stapleton’s background as a business executive who accepted bonuses.

She also raised $50,000 in a two-week campaign leading up to the election where supporters were asked by friends of Kennedy through emails to donate to the campaign. Supporters received brief messages from the likes of Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, former Denver City Council member Allegra Haynes, former Lieutenant Governor Gail Schoettler and attorney Frances Koncilja, among many more.

“The level of dollars raised represents the overwhelming support Cary has as treasurer,” Woods said. “More than 95 percent of the donations came from Colorado and the vast majority were from individual donors.”

Stapleton also ran a late fundraising campaign called Bounce the Bureaucrat that saw him raise more than the $15,000 goal.

Stapleton and his campaign sweated an earlier close election after eking out a Republican primary over J.J. Ament by only 1.7 percent, or 6,000 votes. Campaign manager Michael Fortney said the entire camp, a mix of campaign staff, family and friends who gathered at Stapleton’s house, watched with patience as early returns showed Kennedy ahead of Stapleton on Tuesday.

“We came into the night cautiously optimistic,” Fortney said. “We had to be patient as those big Democratic counties came in first. We were waiting for the Republican strongholds to follow suit and they did.”

Kennedy, who didn’t have a primary, watched the returns from a hotel suite with her husband Saurabh Mangalik, two children Kyra and Kadin, her parents and close friends and family at the Denver Marriott downtown where Colorado Democrats hosted their watch party.

Stapleton gave a victory speech at the Republican watch party at the DoubleTree in Greenwood Village late in the evening. He promised to work to fix the state’s pension system, make sure TABOR is respected and to not always agree with Hickenlooper.

“I want to thank the voters of Colorado,” he said. “You’ve given me an awesome responsibility tonight. Every single day that I am in the job, I will represent you, the taxpayers of Colorado. I will ask what makes the most sense and I will hold the legislature and the governor accountable when it comes to taxing and spending legislation.”

Woods said Kennedy is not yet sure what she’ll do when her term expires in January.

“Before she was treasurer and during, she had a passion for preserving education funding in Colorado and making sure that there are opportunities for everyone here,” Woods said. “I don't think that'll change, but I have no idea what she'll do.”

Stapleton said the board of SonomaWest Holdings, where he serves as chief executive, is actively working on finding his replacement.