Perlmutter exits, others may join governor race
GOLDEN» Now that U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter has stepped out of Colorado’s 2018 race for governor, it looks increasingly likely that Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne will step in — a twist that reflects both the unsettled nature of the contest and a continued nervousness among some Democrats about their primary field.
As expected, Perlmutter on Tuesday made official his departure, telling supporters he no longer had the “fire in the belly” to run for either governor or reelection in Colorado’s 7th Congressional District.
“It takes time and it takes money and it takes energy — and putting all those together, I found looking down deep it was going to be a tough road to hoe,” said Perlmutter, D-Arvada, at his campaign office in Golden.
At about the same time, and a few short miles away, Lynne opened the door wider to the idea of running to replace her boss, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“It is a big step. Ed Perlmutter’s announcement today is a sign of the personal decision-making anybody goes through when they are doing this,” Lynne said.
But the former health care executive noted that she’s been getting calls of support, especially since the Perlmutter news became public, and that she planned to make a decision after the end of the month.
“It is about what’s right for the Democratic Party,” said Lynne, who appeared Tuesday at an event in which Hickenlooper committed Colorado to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
If she does run, Lynne would join a field of gubernatorial candidates that is one of the largest and deepest in Colorado history.
Republicans already have several hopefuls to choose from, including Doug Robinson, Mitt Romney’s nephew; George Brauchler, who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooter; and businessman and former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell. State Treasurer Walker Stapleton also is expected to join the fray, as could state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who has begun to talk more openly about a run.
The Democratic field is similarly competitive.
Former state treasurer Cary Kennedy joined the race about the same time Perlmutter launched his short-lived campaign, and former state Sen. Mike Johnston has been running for months — and posted a notable $633,000 in his first fundraising quarter.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, however, is the name that cannot be ignored.
Not only does the multimillionaire lawmaker have the means to self-fund a campaign, but the Boulder Democrat in June outlined a platform that could pull the field to the left.
For example, hours before Polis made official his candidacy, Johnston announced that one of his top goals was to have Colorado use 100 percent renewable energy by 2040: a target that mirrored exactly what would become a main plank of Polis’ campaign.
It’s an approach that would put Polis or Johnston at odds with Colorado’s oil and gas industry.
At his Tuesday announcement, Perlmutter sidestepped a question on whether Polis is too liberal to win a general election.
“Jared, he’ll get out and campaign as hard as anybody,” said Perlmutter. “And he’s going to have to convince people that his ideas and his philosophy and his views of the world are aligned with theirs.”
But already a few of Perlmutter’s well-connected backers have reached out to Lynne to express interest.
“I said I hope you will seriously consider it and you will have my support,” is what state Sen. Minority Leader Lucia Guzman said she told Lynne this week after it became clear Perlmutter would bow out.
Mike Feeley, who backed Perlmutter’s run for governor and previously served as a co-chair of his congressional campaign, was also supportive of Lynne.
One of the first questions Lynne would have to answer, however, is her stance on succeeding Hickenlooper.
During Hickenlooper’s search last year to replace former Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, he said his preference was someone “who doesn’t want to be governor.”
Asked at her first news conference whether she would run for governor once Hickenlooper’s term ended, Lynne offered an emphatic “No.”
But since then, aides to Lynne said she’s become more open to the idea.
As for Polis, he pushed back against criticism that his record — which includes past support of antifracking initiatives — is too liberal to appeal to voters in a state split almost evenly among Democrats, Republicans and independents.
“This election will be about the future versus the past,” said Mara Sheldon, a Polis spokeswoman, “and Jared’s proven track record of building several successful businesses, creating jobs and starting schools for underserved communities is neither left nor right.”
Currently, Lynne remains the last major question mark on the Democratic side of the governor’s race. That’s not the case in the Republican primary.
Kent Thiry, the CEO of DaVita Inc., has floated the idea of running as a Republican. And Coffman told The Denver Post she is seriously exploring a run.
The primary is where Coffman may face the most difficulty after signaling a break from hardline conservatives on issues related to gay rights and fraud protection for immigrants in the country illegally.
Her entry would again shuffle the deck. “You know sometimes it pays to wait, because things change,” said Coffman, who declined to say when she would make her decision. “Watching what has happened with Congressman Perlmutter the past 24 hours is an example of how the dynamics can change when you’re farther out from a race.”