Democrats in Colorado gubernatorial primary start criticizing each other ahead of mailing of ballots

Teachers for Kennedy ad prompts outcry

DENVER – With another fundraising deadline passed Wednesday and with primary ballots set to be mailed out to Colorado voters next week, several of Colorado’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates are accusing candidate Cary Kennedy of “going negative” with a new advertisement from a committee that backs her and breaking a pledge they made to keep the campaigns clean.

The accusations started after a political action committee backing Kennedy, Teachers for Kennedy, released an ad earlier this week accusing Jared Polis and Mike Johnston of doing harm to Colorado’s public schools.

The ad says Polis took “money out of public schools,” referring to his alleged support of a voucher program that his campaign has denied, and Johnson of favoring “conservative anti-teacher laws” because of his one-time support of teacher evaluations.

Though PACs and campaigns cannot officially coordinate advertising and spending, the ad was taken as an attack by the Polis and Johnston campaigns and is raising eyebrows since all four of the remaining Democratic candidates—the fourth being Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne—made a pledge to run a clean campaign and not attack candidates from the same party.

Polis campaign spokesperson Mara Sheldon said the Teachers for Kennedy ad was a “false negative attack” and called it “desperate” in a statement, saying that Polis has never supported school vouchers on any vote in Congress. The Polis campaign says the Teachers for Kennedy ad falsely portrayed a 2003 op-ed Polis wrote for the Rocky Mountain News backing then-Attorney General Ken Salazar's support for a voucher experiment.

Johnston’s campaign also claimed Kennedy had reneged on her clean campaign pledge and called for the ad to be taken down.

“This is typical negative politics at a time when Colorado needs positive, progressive leadership,” campaign spokesperson Grace Hanover said in a statement. “If Frontier Fairness put up a negative ad, Mike would not hesitate to ask them to take it down.”

Frontier Fairness is the PAC supporting Johnston, but again, committees and campaigns are not allowed to coordinate. But Johnston’s campaign says that the critiques in the ad regarding Johnston’s support of the bill in question was “misleading” as it was also endorsed by the governor at the time, Bill Ritter, along with other Democratic governors from Colorado, the American Federation of Teachers and other groups.

Gov. John Hickenlooper told The Denver Post Wednesday in an interview he was “really disappointed” in the ad, saying the Democratic primary would be turned into “a mudfest.”

The Republican Governors Association even took notice of the spats, sending an email blast out Thursday morning saying: “The Colorado gubernatorial primary is quickly getting ugly. . . . As these candidates engage in personal attacks and eschew centrism, their chances of retaining Hickenlooper’s big tent coalition keep looking more difficult.”

But Kennedy, in a statement, said that her campaign has stayed clean since it can’t coordinate with the PAC.

“I am honored to have the support of teachers and appreciate their desire to make schools better. They took a close look at the candidates running for governor, asked hard questions, and decided my vision for education and record would best serve the students of Colorado,” Kennedy said in a statement to Denver7. She surged forward in fundraising this spring with the backing of the Colorado Education Association amid teacher rallies and strikes.

“They produced this ad independent of my campaign and I cannot legally coordinate with them,” she continued. “I’ve pledged to keep my own campaign positive and I encourage all of the independent groups including those supporting my candidacy to do the same.”

One of the candidates that has so far stayed out of the fray is Donna Lynne, whose campaign spokesperson, Michele Ames, said she intended to honor the clean campaign pledge.

“Colorado needs a leader who can rise above this kind of squabbling and bring people together to solve real issues for real Coloradans. That leader is our current Lieutenant Governor, Donna Lynne,” Ames said in a statement to Denver7.

There haven’t been any polls released about the current Democratic primary field since a Magellan Strategies poll released in late March, but as the Colorado Independent’s Mike Littwin noted in his latest race roundup, Kennedy, Polis and Johnston are all believed to be the most-likely to win the Democratic nomination.

Polis, who has put $5 million into his own campaign and has been spending much of the money on advertisements in recent weeks, released two new advertisements Thursday regarding his support for universal health care.

And it isn’t just the Democratic gubernatorial candidates who have started to try and find ways to rise to the top of their respective packs. GOP gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton has been grilled by his opponents over his work on the PERA deal and over a mostly-misleading advertisement. And Levi Tillmeann has been attacking his Democratic primary opponent in Colorado's 6th Congressional District race, Jason Crow.

The latest bi-weekly fundraising reports are due out on Monday and are expected to paint a better picture of where the candidates stand money-wise heading into the final four weeks of the primary. Ballots will also be mailed out early next week to in-state voters, meaning some Coloradans could be choosing their candidate next week.

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