Mike Johnston, Cary Kennedy, Donna Lynne and Jared Polis on "Colorado Decides."
Mike Johnston, Cary Kennedy, Donna Lynne and Jared Polis on "Colorado Decides."
Colorado Public Television

Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Launch Big PAC Attack in Debate Tonight

Cary Kennedy stuck the landing. The former state treasurer didn't waver, didn't detour in her delivery, not even to answer the actual question. She stuck the landing...but did she land in the right place?

Just hours before Kennedy and the three other Democratic candidates for governor of Colorado —
Congressman Jared Polis, former state senator Mike Johnston and Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne — arrived at the Colorado Public Television studio on May 30 to film a Colorado Decides debate that airs at 9 p.m. tonight, June 1, both the Polis and Johnston campaigns had taken aim at Kennedy for breaking the Clean Campaign Pledge.

At issue was a new TV ad paid for by a super PAC, Teachers for Kennedy, which attacks both Polis and Johnston on the issue of education. This was the first nasty turn in a campaign that's otherwise been a model of civility (at least when compared with the Republican combatants), and it wasn't far into the debate when CBS4's Shaun Boyd brought it up.

“A new ad by a Super PAC that supports you is attacking a couple of your opponents here," Boyd said. "You did take a Clean Campaign Pledge, so do you denounce this ad and do you request that the PAC take it down?”

Just as she'd sidestepped Boyd's first question, regarding where the candidates disagreed with Bernie Sanders, Kennedy ducked this one, sticking to her talking points about the importance of education, and the right of everyone, including a nasty PAC over which she has no control, to their own opinions. Johnston and Polis certainly had a few, and offered some lively interjections.

The jacket-less Johnston (who'd already said he didn't agree with Sanders's call for free college for all) swung first: "You took a Clean Campaign Pledge. Your coalition broke that promise. Now what are you going to do to ensure that promise is kept?... Either you’re going to build a coalition that lives by your values, or you’re not. If you’re not, either you didn’t mean it when you made that promise, or you’re not willing to lead in a way that keeps that promise.”

Polis pointed out that the hit on him involved an op-ed he'd written seventeen years ago, in support of Ken Salazar's position on vouchers.

Donna Lynne's response? "I'm not a big fan of bickering."

(From my experience on Colorado Inside Out, CPT's weekly public-affairs show, the station's viewers aren't particularly fond of bickering, either, but they do like discussions that tackle the topic. While Kennedy's canned messages might play well with other audiences, this one might be disappointed...particularly since this will be the first televised debate with all four candidates, after Polis skipped the KUSA debate last month.)

After the big PAC attack, the quartet kept it clean, and the debate settled back into fairly straightforward discussions of policies regarding transportation, Tabor and PERA. And then political analyst Eric Sondermann asked if the candidates would share some names they were considering for the post of lieutenant governor, a formerly do-nothing job that Governor John Hickenlooper elevated by first appointing Joe Garcia (the coolest lieutenant governor ever, now heading Colorado's Community College System), and then Lynne, who has a broad background in both business and politics, and essentially serves as the state's COO. (For the record, Hickenlooper has not said who he's supporting in this race.)

All four ducked that one, although Johnston allowed that Lynne, Kennedy and Polis would all be good names for the list.

You can see it all at 9 p.m. tonight on Colorado Public Television, when CPT 12 airs this installment of Colorado Decides, a partnership with KUNC and CBS4. In the meantime, here's a preview of Boyd's tough question for Kennedy:

Next week, Colorado Decides will feature three of the four Republican candidates. Walker Stapleton is ditching that debate, citing scheduling conflicts.

But then, unlike the Democratic race, which is still up for grabs, Stapleton looks like a lock. Which Democrat has the best chance of beating him in November? The June 1 episode of Colorado Decides could help you decide.

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