With just over a week to go before the June 26 primary, former Colorado treasurer and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy is hitting the campaign trail and the airwaves hard. And despite controversy over whether she did or didn't break a promise about going negative, sharp responses from rival Jared Polis and questions about a mysterious poll that shows Kennedy leading the field, Serena Woods, her deputy campaign manager, is overflowing with optimism about her chances to win the nomination.
"Things are going really well right now," Woods says. "We're seeing a lot of energy around the state for Cary — and one thing we know is, the more voters get to know Cary, the more they like her. So we're feeling really excited for Cary and her candidacy. We've seen around the country a lot of support for women running for office, and we feel like we'll see that here as well."
Of course, Kennedy isn't the only woman still in the race on the Democratic side; Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne also made the ballot in addition to Polis and former state senator Mike Johnston. Moreover, Woods stresses that "Cary really believes she's the best person to lead our state and wants people to vote for her because they think she's the most qualified candidate and best person to be governor of Colorado."
But at the same time, Woods continues, "we've seen so much support and excitement from women around the state, and Cary is personally very moved to have met so many women who say to her, 'This is the first time I've ever been involved in politics.' She feels that support of women building, and to her, it feels different than her previous campaign. Something Cary feels is really remarkable about the idea she could become the very first woman governor of Colorado ever is that it will inspire the next generation of women coming up not just to run for office but to be leaders in their communities, leaders in their school, leaders in whatever career they might pursue."
Among the most fervent Kennedy supporters are teachers, thanks to endorsements from organizations such as the Colorado Education Association. But a pro-Kennedy ad put out by a political action committee dubbed Teachers for Kennedy gave a jolt to a previously polite campaign by asserting that Polis is pro-vouchers (he's regularly voted against them in Congress) and Johnston has pushed a conservative education agenda (he calls that misleading).
At a recent debate, Kennedy was accused of breaking the Clean Campaign pledge, with Polis arguing that she could simply tell Teachers for Kennedy to yank the ad — which she hasn't done. But Woods insists that the situation isn't that simple because of laws that prevent coordination between candidates and PACs.
"Cary has said she doesn't like these tactics or negative campaigning," she notes. "But our legal counsel has indicated that Cary can't direct them to do anything that has to do with an expenditure, and taking something down is included — so she'd be liable. And in addition to that, the teachers have a perspective in this election. They interviewed all the candidates and they have some concerns about Cary's opponents. I think their perspective on who they believe will be the best governor is an important one."
Polis soon fired back with a new commercial of his own, targeting what the text described as "Cary Kennedy's false attacks on Jared." Woods takes exception to that assertion and sees the very existence of the spot as hypocrisy. As she sees it, "This negative and false attack ad came straight from Jared Polis’s campaign. He is in complete control of the organization running the ad, and he should take his own advice and take this personal and false attack ad down instead of dumping millions of dollars into his campaign to air it."
The scope of Polis's personal resources is vast, Woods acknowledges. "As of last night, we know that Jared Polis has put more than $11 million of his own money into this race. I don't think anyone can directly compete with that. But even though Jared has been outspending Cary pretty significantly for the entirety of this campaign, including the caucus and the assembly, she was able to come out on top. So we're focused on the things we can do, and that's talking to as many voters as possible about who Cary is and what her vision is for Colorado."
It's unclear how well this approach is working. Earlier this month, Kennedy campaign manager Aaron Bly sent out a fundraising blast touting the results of a poll showing Kennedy with 35 percent support, followed by Polis at 30 percent, Johnston at 20 percent and Lynne at 5 percent. Problem is, Bly didn't mention the source of this information, and even Woods seems unclear about it.
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Woods references a blog post by veteran Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli in which he mentions "a new poll rumored, but not released" that "was referenced by Governor John Hickenlooper." But Hickenlooper's mention of "polls" (plural) a few days previous was generic, and Woods isn't sure if it was commissioned by someone in the oil-and-gas industry, as one source suggested, or some other entity. Moreover, two other polls by well-known organizations, Strategies 360 and Magellan Strategies, both show Polis ahead of Kennedy — 31-18 percent in the former, 34-23 in the latter.
Rather than touting the accuracy of one survey over another, Woods suggests that the contest is so fluid that coming up with solid numbers is practically impossible. "We're seeing and hearing about a lot of different polls right now," she says, "but this close to the primary election, I think things are changing on a daily basis. We feel this race is going to come down to the wire, which is why our time is focused on knocking on doors, making phone calls and sharing Cary's vision with Colorado voters."
No question Kennedy's got a strong team. Its ground game is impressive, as is its mastery of social media and electronic communications. But Woods chooses to focus on what she refers to as "love for Cary that we're seeing from our volunteers and supporters. One volunteer sent us grocery bags that had Cary's photo on them; they called them 'Cary-alls.' And another supporter posted an image on Facebook that's pretty culturally common, but changed it just a little: 'Keep Calm and Cary On.'"
That's the kind of advice every gubernatorial candidate needs about now.