GOP candidates for Governor put spin control in high gear

The Colorado Statesman

In the final week before the primary, all four Republican gubernatorial candidates chased mail ballots and all four pounced on Gov. John Hickenlooper after the Democrat apologized to sheriffs for his handling of incendiary gun legislation last year, but that’s where the similarities end.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez unveiled a five-point plan designed to restore liberty to Coloradans as his campaign said internal polling shows him pulling away from the pack.
Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo embraced one ad that purportedly attacks him while firing back at other ads his campaign says could be eroding his lead among Republican primary voters who have until Tuesday to return their ballots.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler continued swinging at the two former congressmen — both have run for governor before and both lost by double-digit margins — contending that his statewide win four years ago means he’s the only candidate who can take on Hickenlooper.

And the fourth candidate, former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, doubled down on his appeal to hard-core conservatives, reminding Republicans he is the only remaining candidate to win the endorsement of a high-profile, uncompromising gun-rights group and that he won’t waver in his opposition to abortion. “Life begins at conception,” he said in an email to supporters, vowing to “NEVER, EVER abandon” his position.

Outside money has poured into the primary in its closing weeks, and some of the heaviest spending is aimed at calling out other outside groups attempting to influence the race.

Tancredo posted an ad run by Democrats on his campaign website — observers said it was designed to encourage Republicans to tilt toward Tancredo, called “too conservative for Colorado” in the TV ad and in slick mailers that reinforced the message — though he grins that the ad gets one word wrong.

“Too conservative?” Tancredo campaign manager Brian Dotterer asks. “They misspelled the word — it’s not ‘too,’ it’s ‘true,’ he’s the true conservative in the race,” he said. “The content of the ad saying that Tom opposes Obamacare and that Tom favors cutting entitlements is absolutely correct. Tom’s platform is one of limited government and state sovereignty and that is consistent with the content of those ads.”

A Beauprez TV ad, backed by a $100,000 buy, rips Democrats for the high-volume ad campaign that began airing at the beginning of June for “meddling in our Republican primary, trying to influence your vote” with an ad that calls Beauprez a flip-flopper and points to his record in Congress.

Democrats “know Tancredo cannot beat Hickenlooper,” warns another TV ad that attacks the Democratic ads, this one from a group called “Republicans Who Want to Win,” a 527 organization backing Beauprez.

But another pair of outside ads that aired this week raised the ire of the Tancredo campaign.

In a radio ad backing Kopp — paid for by a handful of donors, including former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong — a narrator blasts Tancredo, the only gubernatorial candidate who has said he backs legalized marijuana in Colorado, claiming he would be fine with legalizing “drugs like heroin, PCP and cocaine.”

Balderdash, the Tancredo campaign responds, and Dotterer said campaign lawyers have fired off cease-and-desist letters to the stations airing the ad.

“We’ve certainly heard these ads that bear false witness to Tom’s beliefs and certainly we know that former Sen. Armstrong contributed to the group that put those ads on the air,” Dotterer said with a note of disgust. “A Christian bearing false witness against another Christian’s views — the other Christian being Tom.”

Another radio ad that began airing on Wednesday paid for by a group called Campaign for Jobs and Opportunity blasts Tancredo for his record, which the ad claims isn’t as conservative as he claims.

“Does Tom Tancredo even believe what Tom Tancredo says?” the ad asks, taking Tancredo to task for the financial bailout and other votes he cast as a congressman.

Tancredo fired off an open letter to the ad’s producers, Red Curve Solutions, a Massachusetts company Tancredo links to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, noting that Romney has endorsed Beauprez. Calling the ad’s claims “extreme, dishonest, exaggerations,” the candidate demands to know “which East Coast party bosses are trying to buy Colorado’s Republican gubernatorial candidate.”

“Every candidate in the race has positioned themself as the conservative candidate,” Dotterer said. “Tom’s definition of conservatism is limited government — then we can rally conservatives behind Tom, then we can beat the establishment. But if conservatives listen to the lies that are being put forward by party bosses, then we’re going to see the establishment candidates win again, and this’ll be another case of the party bosses bringing their failed candidates to the table.”

It’s a good question whether the last-minute scrambling and sparring over ads will do much to change the primary outcome, however, since Colorado Republicans have been casting ballots since the all-mail election hit post offices more than two weeks ago. Through midweek, the secretary of state’s office reported that 198,213 ballots had already been received by county clerks, with doubtless more in the mail.

Acting for all the world like the gubernatorial nominee, Beauprez this week made public a document he calls “Liberty’s Promise,” detailing his plans to restore liberty for Coloradans.

The “big takeaway” of the past few months’ campaigning, Beauprez said, was that “the government is driving [state residents] nuts,” citing “government regulation, government process, government restraint, government uncertainty.” Liberals, he told reporters on Monday, have been “pressing forward with ideology instead of opportunity. Opportunity’s been taking it on the chin while liberal ideology has been advanced.”

Among the promises Beauprez made were to sign bills repealing the gun-control legislation Hickenlooper signed last year, sign an order to opt Colorado out of federal Common CORE education standards, stand in the way of Obamacare — including reversing the expansion of Medicaid rolls, he said — and establish a coalition of governors to stand against “federal encroachment” of issues that belong to the states. In addition, his plan vows, Beauprez intends to [o]rder “a review of all state government departments, agencies, regulations and functions, and eliminate those that do not promote maximum individual liberty.”

Beauprez on Wednesday announced the formation of Women for Beauprez, a statewide grassroots group he said was dedicated to “leadership, common sense and liberty.”

“We are proud to stand behind Bob and his plan for a stronger Colorado,” said former First Lady Frances Owens in a statement. “Bob is the only candidate with the background and values capable of protecting our families’ rights. He trusts in the goodness of people, and as governor, will restore our economic, educational, and Constitutional liberties.”

As for assertions made by the Beauprez and Tancredo campaigns that they’re trading the lead among primary voters, leaving the other two far behind, a Gessler spokesman scoffed and said not to count out his candidate.

“Those don’t reflect anything like the numbers we’re seeing,” Gessler political director Rory McShane told The Colorado Statesman. “Folks know who Scott is. They’ve known Beauprez and Tancredo longer, but they like Scott because he’s won statewide and has a record of accomplishment. And they think that record of accomplishment,” he argued, “is better than nominating one of two proven failures.”

While the battle for votes has taken to the air this month, McShane said that Gessler’s massive get-out-the-vote effort, coupled with years of visiting Republicans across the state, gives him the edge.

“People underestimate this in election after election — TV ads and radio ads are all well and good, but in an election with this number of undecided voters, personal contact makes a difference,” he said, pointing to the number of volunteers phoning voters and knocking on doors. “That grassroots support is going to carry us home, just like it did in 2010.”

What’s more, he pushed back at the notion that it’s a battle between Beauprez and Tancredo with the other two candidates left to fight for last place.

“If this was truly a two-man race, then Scott and Bob would not be trading off the lead in fundraising,” he said, referencing the frequent financial disclosure filings in the last month.

In the final fundraising period with a reporting deadline before the primary, Beauprez took the lead in dollars raised and cash on hand among the Republicans, though Gessler and Tancredo weren’t far behind. For the two-week period ending on June 11, Beauprez raised $47,749 and had $43,637 on hand after loaning himself another $69,000, bring to $389,000 the money he has poured into his own campaign. Gessler, who led the bi-weekly fundraising reports for the previous two periods, raised $44,773 and had $28,796 on hand. Tancredo hauled in $41,006 and had $35,581 in the bank, while Kopp took in $22,339 and was left with $35,490.

Tancredo, who has been in the race for a year, holds the lead in total funds raised, with $792,778, followed by Gessler’s $534,812, Beauprez’ $306,499 and Kopp’s $266,348. Hickenlooper reported raising $142,737 in the most recent period, for a total of $2,944,740, with $932,190 left to spend.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com