9News just wrapped a midday GOP primary debate among Bob Beauprez, Mike Kopp and Scott Gessler (Tom Tancredo, as he promised he would do for all primary debates, went missing). Nuthin’ like scheduling a live 2 pm – 3 pm Thursday afternoon debate to generate huge audience and attention for something as trivial as a gubernatorial primary debate….
Overall, it was a mild affair. Few slings or arrows flung at each other on stage — even the guy the debaters hope to replace (Gov. Hick) escaped mostly unscathed. Sure, they all took the expected shots at the Guv: “Weak leader… indecisive… bad for Colorado… etc. etc.. ” But it was really tame compared to the hand grenades that will be tossed around in the fall.
It appeared everyone was in a mood to build their own credibility, promote what they think are their selling points and avoid conflict (that seemed to go as well for the milquetoast moderating by Political Reporter Brandon Rittiman and Anchor Kyle Clark). If there’s a frontrunner in this pack, none of these candidates were ready yet to take out any knees at this debate.
TheCenterWins individual debate grades:
Tancredo: Incomplete. No one other than shut ins, candidate staff, Hickenlooper oppo research team, journalists and uber-political junkies actually tuned into this. Not like there was a lot of undecided Republicans taking time from work to endure this one. So, end of the day, Tancredo wasn’t around to say anything dumb, extreme, insensitive, off-message — so at least he didn’t lose any votes. And his email blast this afternoon will certainly point out what he would do differently than those who did show — and, again, no one other than his converted choir will care. The Tanc has the most fervent army and a really clear message. His strategy to stay above the fight and go Reagan 11th Commandment (Thou shalt not speak ill of your fellow Republican.”) is really smart politics (no matter how bad it is for democracy). If this turns into a low volume, 4-way turnout war he can be dangerous. (Remember that he won a really close, contested and unexpected victory when he first ran for congress by staying laser-focused on just a couple compelling issues and turning out his base.)
Kopp: B. Kopp continues to grow and improve as a candidate. He still seems like he’s searching for his voice in this thing and comes off at times with a “me too” approach to expressing his opinions. But he’s come a long way since first getting in and looks more serious and capable. And taking top line at GOP convention is a mildly big deal (and a good argument for raising money and stature among the party faithful). Either the rest of the field implodes or he’s got to figure a way to find some running room (and a issue or two he can own) with the R crazies to put a stamp on his campaign and have a chance.
Gessler: C+. The Honey Badger sounded intentionally restrained. He’s best when he gets all “Newt Gingrich” on the media, on liberal opponents, the Governor and fellow GOPers. He does righteous indignation better than any working Colorado pol. As with all the GOP field, he’s a flawed candidate. And in a big mix up primary his myriad political foibles might be the hardest to overcome when the arrows do start flying. If he’s to win the primary he’ll need to take out Kopp completely, neutralize Tancredo and get to a head-to-head with Beauprez with a “winnability” message. Don’t see that happening unless he gets a breakout soon. (Gessler’s brief dig at Kopp about helping Kopp win his campaign and then dinging him for misstating the number of doors he knocked on was interesting, n’est pas?)
Beauprez: B. He looked gubernatorial. He came prepped on the issues. He’s on the ballot (with signatures). He’s raising money. And if the field stays crowded with everyone else pulling from base-right then he’s the logical beneficiary of a subdued, most-holds-barred rumble. Now, all that said, he’s got his own electability problems and a party that wants to win in November. He was clearly trying to give a nod to center and thinking about a general election voter with some of the debate responses this afternoon. Nothing earth shattering — but he’s the only one thinking about independents and moderate Republican women at this stage. As long as the field stays crowded, as long as the others don’t raise enough $$ to lob sustained primary commercial bombing, and as long as he doesn’t make any mistakes, he’ll probably continue trying to act and run like the guy who’s supposed to win.
The Field: C +. No one outright won the debate. They all scored points in different ways and did some things their individual campaigns needed to do at this point. (Some could argue that Beauprez kinda won by not losing.) But the era of good feelings is soon to pass. There will be a tightening and a winnowing that will happen either on it’s own (Kopp runs out of money, etc), or by circular firing squad. The three dimensional chess that will be played out over the next few weeks will be interesting to watch: Tancredo probably stays silent… does Gessler need to call him out? Does everyone leave Kopp alone thinking he’s not a turnout threat? When do knives come out for Beauprez? How much of this will be a mail/phones/whisper campaign to keep the volume/budget down and speak directly to base primary peeps?
Yesterday’s Quinnipiac gubernatorial numbers surely put some fear in all these campaigns, the state GOP (and both CO and national GOP funders). In a year that looks good for GOP nationally and in CO, a president with weak second-term approvals, a survey that shows a tossup Udall-Gardner Senate campaign that also shows Hickenlooper up significantly on everyone in the GOP primary (and most importantly with a sizeable independent advantage) has got to be a concern.
The Governor’s reelect is in no way a done deal. He’s now got a record to defend, a bunch of questions to answer (health care, death penalty, gun control, more) and a really unsettled and grumpy electorate. Repubs have a chance to rebrand and hit a reset with their candidates this fall. As it usually comes down to in every major general election, the center will decide this one too. Can any of these GOP gubernatorial candidates make the case to persuadable Colorado independents and centrists?
Last grade of the day, 9News Political Debate Team: C-. Yawn. Seriously, a Thursday afternoon live debate? Gimme a break. At least Brandon Rittiman and (usually entertaining) Kyle Clark could you guys have come up with a little more provocative line of questioning? How many times did Kyle thank the candidates for staying within the defined time limits? (seriously, who cares what they said, at least we didn’t have to cut off their mic.) Where were they going with the crazy Nevada rancher questions? Trying to draw the candidates into sounding nuttier than they wanted to? Didn’t seem worthy of a 1-hour debate of Colorado issues. Did they really need two moderators for a three-candidate debate. Just meant more wasted time on asking questions than hearing answers. So few fireworks from the candidates meant the 9News crew needed to light a few so voters got a glimpse at who these guys really are when under fire (instead of the pre-packaged versions). Lastly, the 9News Frazier-Majia political “analysis” team is really stale. There has got to be a way to get a neutral, independent centrist political voice to get in the middle of these caricatures of party hacks and make them honestly analyze serious political/campaign considerations instead of spitting party talking points…. again, yawn.
Thankfully, with the primary coming, the candidates will most certainly wake up and set off a few compelling fireworks to make the campaign a little more interesting. Stay tuned.