Mitchell throws first punches in race

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jesse Paul and Mark K. Matthews

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.”

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