| Lists |

Five Surprises From the Colorado Primaries

Phil Weiser, the likely winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary for attorney general.
Phil Weiser, the likely winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary for attorney general.
Phil Weiser
Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Colorado's (ridiculously expensive) primaries concluded on Tuesday, June 26. Republican Walker Stapleton will take on Democrat Jared Polis in November to succeed John Hickenlooper in the Colorado governor's office, Democrat Jason Crow will face Republican Mike Coffman in Colorado's only swingy congressional district (the 6th), and it appears the GOP's George Brauchler will take on Democrat Phil Weiser for the attorney general seat.

The primaries shook out roughly how we thought they would, but there were a few surprises. Keep reading for five takeaways from the primaries.

1. Progressive Democrats didn't do all that well.

On a night when progressive Democrats pulled off stunning upsets in New York and Maryland, their Colorado counterparts didn't perform all that well. From Bernie Sanders-endorsed Joe Salazar in the attorney general's race to Bernard Douthit in the state treasurer primary to Saira Rao, Mark Williams and Levi Tillemann in the congressional primaries, nobody aside from Salazar came remotely close to winning, with the others losing by roughly two-to-one margins (though most of these candidates were also heavily outspent and underdogs to begin with).

Of the four Our Revolution-backed candidates in Colorado, only one, Emily Sirota (House District 9), won on Tuesday. Our Revolution is a progressive, Sanders-backed campaign group that has endorsed dozens of candidates nationwide.

That said, four progressive challengers in four down-ballot state races, including Robert Rodriguez, who pulled off an upset over the well-funded Zach Neumann in senate District 32, defeated more establishment-type candidates. Julie Gonzales (senate District 34) and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (house District 4) also scored big progressive wins in state House races.

2. A lack of nail-biters.

Independent voters participating for the first time. A lack of polling. Huge amounts of undecideds in polls. The predictably unpredictable nature of primaries. There were plenty of reasons to anticipate some big upsets, but most everything went according to plan.

Nearly every key race on Tuesday was called by 9 p.m., though the Democratic attorney general and Republican state treasurer primaries (Brian Watson was beating Justin Everett by fewer than 5,000 votes with 93 percent of the vote in) were still hanging in the balance as of early Wednesday morning. But even in these races, there were no major upsets, which is sort of an upset in and of itself.

Speaking of which...

Phil Weiser, the likely winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary for attorney general.
Phil Weiser, the likely winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary for attorney general.
Phil Weiser

3. Phil Weiser (barely) wins.

It's not often that a candidate who outspends his opponent ten to one gets props for an election-night victory, but Weiser, a former dean of the University of Colorado law school, pulled off what many insiders thought was Joe Salazar's to lose in the Democratic primary for attorney general.

Progressive hero Sanders, who won Colorado's caucuses by nearly twenty points two years ago, saved one of his rare endorsements for Salazar, a Thornton state representative and a high-profile civil-rights attorney with a last name that carries perhaps more clout than any other in Colorado politics.

But Weiser, who was clinging to a 9,000-vote lead by Wednesday morning, appears to have, just barely, held off Salazar, which means he'll lock horns with yet another high-profile candidate in November: uncontested GOP primary winner George Brauchler.

4. Jared Polis wins big.

The Democratic primary was about as thrilling as a couples' game night in Highlands Ranch. Most pundits and polls predicted that Polis would win the Democratic nomination, but not by twenty points. A mere 45 minutes after the polls closed, the Associated Press proclaimed the 2nd District congressman the victor in the Democratic cash bonanza. Recent polls had generally shown a tight-ish race, with even one (albeit dubious) poll showing Cary Kennedy ahead.

Kennedy and Mike Johnston nabbed around a quarter of the vote each, but Polis still came close to 50 percent, with progressive promises of free preschool and kindergarten and universal health care resonating with the left-of-center voting bloc that he courted.

If there's one lesson from Tuesday, it's that money clearly goes a long way in courting undecided voters, especially when you throw a couple hundred thousand unaffiliateds into the fray for the first time. Just ask Polis and Weiser, who both out-performed pre-election expectations.

Walker Stapleton won big on Tuesday.
Walker Stapleton won big on Tuesday.

5. Walker Stapleton gets nearly 50 percent of the GOP vote.

It's hard to believe that just twelve weeks ago, Stapleton's campaign was in deep trouble as a signature fiasco forced the two-term state treasurer to rely on the GOP state assembly just to get his name on Tuesday's ballot.

But Stapleton cruised to victory in the April assembly, earning the top spot on the ballot, and he turned that advantage into an eighteen-point (with 94 percent of the vote counted) landslide victory over businessman Victor Mitchell. Stapleton was the heavy favorite coming into Tuesday, but his margin of victory came as somewhat of a surprise. Mixing in a lot of Donald Trump and a bit of denim, Stapleton effectively rallied the party, leaving little doubt that he's the GOP top dog heading into the fall.

Stapleton, though, may have paid a dear price for his landslide primary victory: Ads of him loving Trump and aligning himself with Tom Tancredo certainly helped him win this race, but they may not go over particularly well in November's general election. Colorado, after all, is a state where Trump's approval rating is in the hole.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.