DENVER — Hours before the polls closed Tuesday and Bob Beauprez was quickly declared the winner of Colorado’s GOP gubernatorial primary, he speculated that the Democratic effort to tip the race to Tom Tancredo may have backfired.
A day later, it’s crystal clear that that is indeed the case.
While there are other factors to explain Tuesday nights results, including Tancredo’s lackadaisical campaign effort — the candidate who raised the most money on paper spent almost none of it on TV or radio ads or a voter turnout effort — and the $500,000 Beauprez loaned his own campaign, it’s now apparent that Tancredo was on track to win the four-way primary until Democrats got involved.
On June 5, FOX31 Denver was first to report a newly formed independent expenditure committee called Protect Colorado Values had launched two TV ads aimed at weakening Beauprez and elevating Tancredo in the eyes of conservative primary voters.
Tancredo, one ad claimed, was just “too conservative for Colorado”, while “Both Ways Bob Beauprez”, as the Democratic ad referred to the GOP establishment’s choice, couldn’t be trusted on issues like Obamacare and earmarks.
An independent expenditure committee had been formed to support Beauprez just before the Democratic ads hit the airwaves. It’s name, Republicans Who Wanted to Win, hinted at the candidate’s own chosen selling point: electability. But the Democratic ads served as both a wake up call and an opportunity to crystallize their own argument.
“Up to that point, Beauprez supporters were worried Tom was going to win but were waiting for that tipping point that told them that was going to happen,” said Kelly Maher, the executive director of Compass Colorado and perhaps the most knowledgeable person in the state about the conservatives’ soft money game.
“When Democrats put their cards on the table, it was well-covered and exposed pretty early.”
Beauprez held a press conference denouncing the ad from the group, a joint venture of the Democratic Governors Association and independent progressive donors from Colorado.
The earned media lasted for about a week. Suddenly, Beauprez backers were opening up their wallets.
“The Democratic money gave Republican donors a very clear indicator of who they wanted,” Maher said. “If they hadn’t made such a substantial investment in this, I don’t see Republicans coming to the table as quickly as they did to support Bob.”
The two ads from Protect Colorado Values, which spent a reported $505,000 to date on the advertising and two mail pieces ($360,000 of it came from the DGA), continued to run as the primary came to a close.
But they helped another group formed to back Beauprez, Republicans Who Want to Win, raise enough money to put their own ad on the air, framing the race based on their own interpretation of the Democrats’ messaging.
“It gave Beauprez a platform: the other guys want Tancredo, vote for me,” said Josh Penry, a former GOP state senate minority leader. “And it helped some of that outside money coalesce and come in and assert itself at the end.”
All along, polling showed the campaigns that Tancredo was stuck around 26-27 percent — his floor and ceiling were basically the same. But with less than two weeks left in the race, polls also showed the other three candidates still trailing Tancredo. It was simply a matter of which candidate could mount enough of a late media push to overtake him.
Beauprez’s own money, coupled with Tancredo’s decision not to do anything,
“The Democratic gambit was the catalyst that moved some very influential people from the category of expressing concern over a Tancredo nomination into the category of opening up their checkbook and doing something about it,” another Republican source tells FOX31 Denver.
Last Thursday, Republicans Who Want to Win announced a last minute ad buy over the primary’s final weekend, spending $75,000 to run the spot explaining the Democratic ads and framing Beauprez as “the candidate Democrats fear” over four days, from last Thursday through the Monday before Election Day.
“The Democrats helped distill the choice: ‘the candidate the Democrats want or the candidate the Democrats fear’,” Maher said, quoting the language in the Republicans Who Want to Win TV spot.
And 70 percent of the buy blanketed two of the state’s smaller media markets, where ad time is far cheaper than in Denver, that also happen to be two of the most conservative parts of the state: Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.
On Tuesday night, Beauprez won in both El Paso and Mesa counties by a far bigger percentage than his overall result statewide; and the inverse was true for Tancredo.
Beauprez won 30 percent of the statewide vote, but he took 41 percent in Mesa County and 35 percent in El Paso County, which had the highest turnout of any county in the state.
On the flip side, Tancredo finished with 27 percent of the statewide vote but garnered just 21 percent in Mesa County and 19 percent in El Paso County.
And yet, the Democrats could have still gotten the candidate they wanted — if he’d only worked a bit harder.
“There’s a strong perception that Tom didn’t want it,” Penry said. “He didn’t work it and it cost him. A lot of people gave him credit for how he ran the race in 2010 even though he failed. Here, he just didn’t work hard.”