Less than eight weeks from Colorado's gubernatorial election, perhaps the biggest campaign question of all remains unanswered: Will Donald Trump campaign for GOP nominee Walker Stapleton?
So far, Stapleton's remained mum on whether or not the president will come to Colorado. There's nothing officially planned, though there have been rumblings that the commander-in-chief could make a pit stop in the Centennial State before the November 6 election between Stapleton and Democratic nominee Jared Polis.
Political strategy and simple math will tell you it's a tough call. Trump lost Colorado by about 5 percent in 2016, and his local approval rating is even further underwater than that. But the state's registered Republicans overwhelmingly and fanatically support Trump, they account for more than 30 percent of Colorado's voters, and registered Republicans' share of the vote tends to increase during midterm elections.
Stapleton has to keep the Trump-loving Republican base excited and get them to turn out, all while appealing to the state's more Trump-skeptic 1.2 million unaffiliated voters, who'll almost certainly decide the election. It's the same tap dance that Senator Cory Gardner is doing — though, in general, Stapleton has been friendlier to Trump than Gardner or Representative Mike Coffman.
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Trump has concentrated his nationwide midterm stump efforts on more reliable GOP-friendly turf. In the last few weeks, Trump has visited West Virginia, Indiana, Montana and Ohio to boost congressional candidates in those states, all of which supported Trump by substantial margins in 2016. He's planning on visiting swingier states like Virginia and Michigan to help in statewide elections there in the next few weeks, though the candidates in both of those races are considered to be heavy underdogs.
That said, in June Trump went to Nevada to campaign for fellow Republican Dean Heller in that state's tight senatorial race this November. Like Colorado, Trump lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016, albeit by a smaller margin (2.4 percent) than he lost Colorado.
Maybe personal connections could tie Stapleton and Trump together. Both are longtime former residents of the same highbrow Connecticut suburb. Trump is from New York City, and Stapleton grew up about thirty miles away from Trump's Queens home turf (though Stapleton sure doesn't want you to know that).
There are alternatives to Trump actually visiting, including a more middle-of-the-road approach. He could use his calloused thumbs to tweet his support for Stapleton days before the election (notably, though, Trump did not publicly weigh in on the June GOP primary), an approach that could get Trump supporters to the polls while appeasing more Trump-skeptic unaffiliated voters.
"I do think it's going to be a tough race, and [Stapleton and Polis] are campaigning hard," says Metro State University political science professor Dr. Robert Hazan. "If [Stapleton] thinks there's merit to [Trump visiting], he'll do it."
Stapleton aired primary ads touting his support for the president's agenda, and his on-again, off-again flirtation with Tom Tancredo makes it clear that he is at least cognizant of the need to appeal to the far-right wing of his coalition.
"[Stapleton] has been very clear in his support of probably most of the policies of the current president," Hazan says. "There is no doubt in my mind that he will be identified as a strong President Trump supporter. That said, we'll see in the next few weeks if that tight alignment will be sustained. I think it will be."
Meanwhile, Colorado Democrats seem to be welcoming the possibility of a possible Trump visit to the Centennial State. It makes sense: With Democrats garnering significantly more votes than Republicans in the June primaries and Democratic turnout up in special elections nationwide, anti-Trump sentiment appears to be firing up the left. Dissatisfaction with Trump is also probably the main reason Polis is most pundits' slight favorite to win.
"Stapleton has aligned himself with Trump on tax cuts for millionaires and corporations, ripping health care away from hardworking Coloradans while raising costs, putting children in cages, cozying up to white nationalists and attacking the public lands that Coloradans love," says Colorado Democratic Party spokesman Eric Walker. "Stapleton clung to Trump like a baby koala just to get through the primary, so frankly it doesn't really matter if Trump comes and stumps for him now. The damage is done."
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In the lead-up to the 2016 election, Trump visited Colorado ten times, including Colorado Springs three times, metro Denver three times (two visits to Denver and one to Golden), and he swung through Pueblo, Greeley, Loveland and Grand Junction once each.
But if Trump were to come to Colorado now, where would he go? Among Colorado's largest cities, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction were the biggest Trump supporters during the 2016 election. Traditionally-blue Pueblo swung hard toward Trump, which could make the city prime landing ground for Air Force One.
Trump's 2018 midterm visits have mostly been to larger GOP cities, places like Evansville, Indiana, and Billings, Montana. Should Trump decide to come here, he'd probably go somewhere with a big Republican base, too, like Colorado Springs.
But on the other hand, should Trump visit Grand Junction or Pueblo, he could kill two birds with one stone by simultaneously stumping for Stapleton and 3rd Congressional District Republican Scott Tipton, who could be in trouble in the case of a Democratic surge.