Mitchell throws first punches in race
Victor Mitchell came out swinging this week in the Republican primary for Colorado governor, questioning the fundraising practices of one GOP rival and saying another “shouldn’t be anywhere near the executive branch of government” because he’s an attorney.
It’s one of the first times that a candidate has gone negative in the fledgling fight for governor, and Mitchell, a millionaire businessman who served one term in the state legislature, said he doesn’t regret criticizing fellow Republicans Doug Robinson and George Brauchler.
“We have to be level with the citizens of Colorado,” Mitchell said. “The voters of Colorado deserve honest, straight-talking elected officials. We’ve got to stop pandering and start leading.”
But the barbs have touched a nerve among some Republican insiders, who said Mitchell’s early turn toward the negative does the party no favors.
“The last thing Republicans want at this early stage of the primary for governor is a bunch of negative crap thrown around by any of the Republican candidates against each other,” said Dick Wadhams, former chair of the Colorado Republican Party. “There are clear reasons why Republicans have only elected two Republican governors in the past 62 years and this incident won’t do anything to help change that reality.”
With so many candidates running for governor, there was little doubt that someone at some point would begin criticizing his or her opponents. That the person was Mitchell at this stage in the game, however, suggests that he isn’t waiting around to make a name for himself.
For the moment, Mitchell — from Castle Rock — has the financial edge. He has more money than anyone else in the race after loaning his campaign $3 million to start his run, a cash infusion made possible by a business career in real estate and technology.
And he may have a short window of time to break out from the current Republican pack, as two state GOP officials — Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman — are eyeing a run. One, or both, could declare by year’s end.
For his part, Mitchell said he’s “not really concerned with what my opponents are saying” and that he would call out anyone in the race — be it a Democrat or a Republican — for questionable behavior.
The barrage began Sunday night at a forum for GOP gubernatorial candidates, where Mitchell said lawyers shouldn’t be running for governor.
“I think they are totally unqualified and (should) stay away from our executive branch of government,” he said. “It’s our last protected branch that we should have an outsider, a business person and somebody that can think imaginatively.” The slight drew a response from fellow Republican candidate Brauchler, the 18th Judicial District attorney, who said the GOP should “stop the petty attacks” and focus on winning the governor’s mansion.
“I’m proud of the 23 years I have consistently upheld my oath to this constitution and to stand up for those who are oppressed — either by the bad guys or by the government,” Brauchler said. “I’m happy every time I stand up in court and say, ‘George Brauchler for the people of Colorado.’ … I take pride in that. My mom took pride in being an attorney, too.”
Then, Mitchell sent out two news releases on Monday and Tuesday calling into question donors to Doug Robinson’s campaign. He urged Robinson to return $35,000 that came from Utah residents and a $1,150 donation from a political action committee tied to a Medicaid vendor investigated for its billing practices. Some of the Utah donations came from the family of Robinson’s uncle, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“Doug Robinson clearly stands with the big money PACs and establishment interests, including those living and working in Utah,” Mitchell’s release said. “He’s ‘Big-Dollar Doug,’ if that’s what you think will help Colorado.”
That drew a sharp rebuke from Robinson’s campaign, which said in a written statement: “Vic is lashing out because he only raised 5 percent the amount we did last quarter, and he’s starting to realize that the Governor’s mansion isn’t just a high-priced home that can be bought.”
Mitchell called Robinson’s statement “the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.”
And Brauchler, responding to the Robinson-Mitchell spat, said “we are better than this” and that such back-and-forth isn’t going to help the GOP win back the governor’s seat.
Brauchler then joked on Twitter: “Doug Robinson is too tall for #COGov. I call upon Doug to be shorter. Some are intimidated by height. #Nonsense.”
Former state Rep. Jim Kerr, a Republican Mitchell supporter who served alongside him at the Capitol, said Mitchell has always been able to get things done and work across differences to find a middle ground. Kerr described him as “a guy who gets things done.”
“He knows how to win,” Kerr said. “This other stuff is ‘so what.’ I want somebody in office who will make changes and make our state better. And Victor will do that.”
But Rick Enstrom, president of the Foothills Republicans club and a Brauchler backer who is well known in GOP circles, said Mitchell’s attacks are “just sad.”
“I think it was uncalled for and a thinly veiled shot,” Enstrom said of Mitchell’s comments about Robinson. “I’m seeing Democrats weighing in on this deal. It’s just sad to see it go this way this soon.”