Davidson’s win in Regents GOP primary sets up repeat election from six years ago

Defeated GOP candidate Matt Arnold says Republican establishment has driven him from politics altogether
The Colorado Statesman

In Colorado’s only statewide race on Tuesday’s primary ballot, Republican voters teed up a rematch between anesthesiologist Brian Davidson and University of Colorado Regent At-large Stephen Ludwig, the Democrat who defeated Davidson by a slim margin six years ago.

Preliminary returns showed Davidson cruising to victory over GOP challenger Matt Arnold, with just over 60 percent of the vote, in a contest that grew heated in its final weeks.

The race was so brutal, Arnold said, that after helming a statewide campaign aimed at tossing liberal judges from the state’s high court two years ago and making a bid for state GOP chairman last year, he’s decided to step back from the fray.

“We pushed all the way up until the end, we didn’t become complacent at all,” said Davidson, a physician and faculty member at the CU’s medical school and hospital. “That’s not my nature.”

Matt Arnold lost the race with 39 percent.

Davidson’s campaign manager, political consultant Mike Ciletti, said the convincing win resulted from “a lot of hard work by quite a few folks involved, and it never hurts when your opponent stumbles.”

According to preliminary, unofficial results reported by the Associated Press, Davidson won 154,025 votes, or 61 percent, to Arnold’s 97,322 votes, or 39 percent.

Arnold told The Colorado Statesman that the Republican establishment had succeeded in driving him from politics altogether.

“I’m not going to be very engaged in politics going forward here,” he said on Wednesday. “Folks have certainly done a number on my reputation, and I think that was certainly the point of it.” Adding that he was “surprised at how quickly the opposition turned nasty,” he said he found the whole experience “disheartening.”

“It shows why a lot of good people don’t get involved in politics or get engaged in the civic sphere, because of the nastiness and personal attacks that far too often accompany a campaign.”

During the weeks approaching the June 26 primary election, Arnold was subject to a barrage of robocalls questioning his integrity and what he termed a “whisper campaign” he said stunned him with its brazenness. At the same time, a shadowy independent organization flooded the airwaves with ads supporting his opponent.

Coloradans for a Better Future, a 527 organization, named for a section of the tax code, reported spending $24,640 this month on what appear to be radio ads boosting Davidson and robocalls attacking Arnold.

Brian Davison, Republican for Regent At-large.

Formed in July 2009, the organization spent in the neighborhood of $85,000 to support Colorado Springs Democrat John Morse in his 2010 election bid. On June 12 of this year, the organization reported a $20,000 contribution on June 12 from the Parker-based Colorado Justice Alliance, a shadowy group that doesn’t appear to have registered with the Colorado Secretary of State. The registered agent for Coloradans for a Better Future didn’t return a telephone inquiry from The Statesman.

“The level of nastiness and attacks in this campaign was several orders of magnitude higher even than Clear the Bench,” Arnold told The Statesman the day after the primary, referring to the watchdog organization he founded to combat what he termed liberal state supreme court justices. “You’re taking on the judicial establishment and legal establishment and it never got as nasty as it got in this race.”

While the candidates had kept busy all year courting Republican groups and campaigning via emails and social media on the Internet, it wasn’t until mail ballots went out to voters in early June that the contest got much attention from the mainstream media, and that focused primarily on a series of misstatements and gaffes from Arnold.

The avalanche of bad news began when an Arnold supporter sent a get-out-the-vote email to Arapahoe County Republicans that some said made it appear as though the county party — forbidden from taking sides in a primary — was endorsing the candidate.

Then El Paso County Republican officials put out the word that Arnold had described a graduate-level certificate from Johns Hopkins University as a “master’s degree,” and the headlines started pouring in.

Arnold dismissed the controversy and “apologized for not always being precise in my language describing my advanced, post-graduate education,” but the uproar only intensified after a Denver Post reporter quoted him referring to “academic BS that no one cares about.”

Arnold said that the Post story mischaracterized the point he was trying to make — that the substance of an education should trump labels — but by then the row was under way.

A frustrated Arnold slammed the GOP establishment for keeping quiet when El Paso County Republicans weighed in on the primary, contrary to party rules.

“The hypocrisy of the state party apparatus in allowing that to go unchallenged and unremarked and unpunished stands in marked contrast to the perception of the possibility of a hint of a party officer taking sides in Arapahoe County,” he told The Statesman the day after the primary.

He suggested the local dust-up had more to do with lingering bitterness over internal feuds that had involved his wife, the former Sarah Marie Anderson, who was forced from a county GOP post last year.

But once his candidacy appeared to be floundering, the hits came fast and furious.

“That was what opened the door. My involvement in that was what opened it up to subsequent attacks, and it was a feeding frenzy by the media and the opposition and the 527s,” he said.

Davidson had the backing of much of the state’s Republican establishment, including former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, who headed CU and the University of Northern Colorado for stretches after leaving the Senate, and a bevy of current and former elected officials. Arnold counted backers from the more conservative wing of the party, though three of them — including two sitting CU regents — pulled their endorsements as the controversy surrounding Arnold’s statements mounted.

By Wednesday afternoon, Davidson said he hadn’t heard from his primary opponent for the customary concession call and offer of congratulations.

Arnold said that was no oversight on his part.

“The race is over, I lost, and I’m out of politics,” he said on Wednesday night, adding that he had no intention of congratulating his primary opponent.

Ludwig, for his part, said he phoned both candidates the day after the votes had been counted, offering Davidson congratulations on his win and thanking Arnold “for being so passionate about the university.”

Davidson said he relishes the chance to vie for votes against Ludwig in the fall election, when the choice for at-large CU Regent will be the only contest on every Colorado ballot other than the presidential race.

He said his campaign platform will revolve around three points: keeping CU’s cost down to reduce the threat of ballooning student-loan debt, supporting the university’s health care system, which he said was crucial to the state, and “making sure we’re providing the relevant, unbiased education to students” so that degrees lead to employment in a tight economy.

“There’s nothing worse than spreading $40- or $50,000 on an education and realizing you can’t get the job you wanted,” he said.

Davidson acknowledged that he and Ludwig “share many of the same goals, but the perspective each of us has is different.” He said his experience as “a physician, clinical faculty member and a student” at CU — he holds an MBA from the school, in addition to earning his medical degree there — means that his “view of where opportunities exist for efficiency and reducing cost are probably different than Steve Ludwig’s.”

“I’m not interested in a low-road campaign,” Davidson said, noting that he might have to “let Steve beat me up a little bit.”

“I’m interested in a positive campaign all the time,” he said, adding that, “it’s good to respond appropriately if negative campaigning is being used against you.”

Ludwig said he plans to take the same approach to the general election.

“I’m going a high-road campaign,” he said. “That’s just how I’m wired. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and the poison from Washington has gone pretty deep in the well, and if a race for CU regent can’t try to be what’s best about politics and offer a new version of how to talk about issues and policy, then I’m not sure what campaign can.”
He said he anticipates a healthy debate.

“Brian is a very smart, capable person,” Ludwig said. “He’s accomplished a lot in his career, and I think the state will benefit form the two of us getting in public and discussing the best way forward for the university.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com