DENVER – Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton clinched their respective party’s nominations in the Colorado gubernatorial race in Tuesday’s primaries, setting up a November contest that will pit a five-term liberal Congressman who has pledged to fight the Trump administration against a two-term state treasurer who has increasingly aligned himself with the president.
As of 9:20 p.m., with 34 percent of counties fully counted, Polis had garnered 44.5 percent of the vote, compared to Cary Kennedy’s 25 percent, Mike Johnston’s 23.1 percent and Donna Lynne’s 7.3 percent.
And Stapleton had taken home 48.5 percent of the vote, defeating Victor Mitchell (30.5 percent), Greg Lopez (12.3 percent) and Doug Robinson (8.7 percent).
Polis, if elected, would become the first openly-gay governor of Colorado, while Stapleton is trying to become the first Republican governor of Colorado since Bill Owens left office in 2007. They are vying to replace Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited.
Polis, who is one of the wealthiest members of Congress after starting several successful businesses, won the nomination after spending about $12 million of his own money during the primary—more than was spent during the entire 2014 gubernatorial race.
In a victory speech that followed his clinching of the nomination, Polis thanked the other three candidates, calling them “inspiring” and saying they brought passionate volunteers to their respective campaigns.
He said he would “continue working with them to make sure each of them can help the people of Colorado.”
He advocated for a better economy and his single-payer health care plan in the speech, along with free full-day preschool and a pledge to continue moving Colorado toward more renewable energy.
“We will win in November,” he told his supporters, adding that he “could not be more humbled to be your Democratic nominee for governor of Colorado.”
And he, like Stapleton did in a speech minutes later, already started drawing battle lines for the next phase of the campaign.
“Even though we’re celebrating tonight, we know we’re not there yet,” Polis said. “We have to go up against Walker Stapleton. He has a starkly different vision for our country and state.”
“We can’t have a governor that’s tied to Donald Trump. We’ve got to have some independence,” he added.
Stapleton, after thanking his supporters, family and staffers, dug right in against Polis.
Saying the choices “could not be clearer” and the differences between he and Polis “could not be more stark,” Stapleton laid into Polis’s health care and energy plans, saying, “In Colorado, we can do better and we must.”
He claimed Polis “will raise every tax and fee on hardworking Coloradans that he can find” and said he, as a former CEO, could fix the state’s infrastructure issues.
"My fellow Coloradans, the stakes could not be higher for my children and for yours,” he said. “I am honored tonight that you have chosen me to carry our message forward of opportunity for all Coloradans, of making Colorado the place that will make our kids and grandkids proud, a place where all of us can prosper. Let’s win this election for them."
“Onward to victory in November!” he said to end his speech.
The primary was the first in which unaffiliated voters were automatically eligible to participate. While the full effects of their votes are not yet known, the 2018 primaries saw the most-ever votes cast in a Colorado primary, though it’s not yet clear if it is the highest percentage turnout in recent years.
In 2010, turnout was 32.4 percent after 774,071 ballots were cast out of the 2.39 million active registered voters. As of 4:10 p.m. Tuesday, 983,703 ballots had been cast out of the state’s 3.28 current active registered voters.
The full results will not be finalized until at least later this week.
Watch the acceptance speech from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jared Polis here or in the player below.
Watch the acceptance speech from Republican gubernatorial nominee Walker Stapleton here or in the player below.