Health care, Trump among diverse stands of Colorado hopefuls

DENVER (AP) — Republican treasurer Walker Stapleton has attacked his opponent in the race for Colorado governor, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, as too radical and extreme for the rapidly growing state as the GOP tries to prevent a complete Democratic takeover of the Statehouse.

Stapleton’s repeated criticism of the liberal Polis underscores Republican fears that the party could lose control of the state Senate in Tuesday’s election. The Senate has acted as a check on attempts by the Democratic-led House to restrict gun rights and raise taxes for public schools.

“Colorado does not want a socialist for governor,” Stapleton declared when Polis, an advocate of universal health care, campaigned with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders last month.

In response, Polis cites a high-tech entrepreneurial career that made him wealthy before he entered Congress in 2009 and has let him personally invest more than $22 million in his campaign this year.

Polis and his supporters largely view the race as a referendum on President Donald Trump, whom Stapleton has embraced. Trump’s efforts to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s health care law top the list of issues.

“Health care is on the ballot. Social Security and Medicare are on the ballot,” Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told activists while campaigning with Polis at Servicios de la Raza, a Denver community center. “You need guardrails here in Colorado.”

Colorado Republicans haven’t held the governor’s seat since 2007. Early returns suggest Stapleton, 44, is the underdog in an election in which independents, the state’s largest voting bloc, are turning out in high numbers, as they did in Colorado’s Democratic primaries. If elected, Polis, 43, would be Colorado’s first openly gay governor.

A Democratic-controlled Statehouse could move forward on gun regulations, expand public school funding and limit drilling options for Colorado’s $31 billion oil and gas industry — one that’s prospered under centrist Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former petroleum geologist who is term-limited.

Colorado’s Republican-led Senate has forced compromise on those issues. Senate President Kevin Grantham credits that compromise for the state’s fast-growing economy, one of the strongest in the nation.

“That balance of government is good for predictability and stability and steady sailing for businesses,” Grantham said.

Republicans have a one-vote Senate edge entering the election. A cluster of races in Denver’s suburbs will determine the outcome, and they have attracted money from the national parties and outside groups.

Voters have been bombarded with daily mailers, television ads, texts and door knocks in targeted races such as Democratic state Rep. Faith Winter’s challenge of Republican state Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik. Democrat Hillary Clinton won the district by 5 percentage points in 2016.

Stapleton has attacked Polis’ advocacy of green energy and publicly funded preschool and kindergarten. He defends state constitutional limits on taxes and spending that require voter approval for any tax hike.

As treasurer, Stapleton worked with both parties to ensure a stable state investment portfolio and to rescue an underfunded state pension fund.

He claims Polis’ plans for fully funded preschool and kindergarten and universal health care coverage would triple Colorado’s budget — if Polis could raise the taxes to fund them.

“I’m a big believer that if you ask people to pay for things, you have to explain how you’re actually going to fund government, health care, transportation,” Stapleton said.

Polis pledges to “build coalitions” to fund transportation and schools and promote green energy investment — suggesting that restrictive tax laws eventually need to change in a state whose population has grown from 4.3 million in 2000 to an estimated 5.7 million this year.

Polis called for restricting access to guns for those in crisis and urged voters to elect a governor who supports abortion rights.

Stapleton said he would be a “pro-life governor” who would respect Roe v. Wade as the law of the land but didn’t address during the campaign what he would do if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn that ruling.

Trump weighed in Thursday on Twitter, saying Stapleton “will be an extraordinary Governor for the State of Colorado” and calling Polis “weak on crime and weak on borders — could never do the job.”

Polis — who founded high schools for new immigrants and English learners — cited Trump’s escalating midterm rhetoric about immigration as a critical reason to vote Democratic.

“I’m willing to stand up to this president or any president that tries to profit on division and on fear-mongering,” he told the Servicios de la Raza crowd. “Colorado could either elect a Donald Trump ‘yes man’ as governor or somebody with a track record of creating opportunities for families and bridging the great divides in our state.”


Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.


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