As the Denver Post's Lynn Bartels reports:
Secretary of State Scott Gessler is the latest Republican candidate for governor who won't participate in GOP primary debates or forums.
Gessler's campaign this week said he wouldn't attend a debate sponsored by The Denver Post on Feb. 18, and other candidates said he hasn't been at forums in recent weeks.
Last December, former Congressman Tom Tancredo said his campaign decided to nix primary debates, believing they only give Democrats fodder for the general election…
Obviously, the two frontrunners in the Republican gubernatorial primary announcing that they won't participate in debates or candidate forums puts an end to the prospect of them for all practical purposes. Make no mistake, this is a very significant development, at marked variance with recent primaries. In 2006, Bob Beauprez debated Marc Holtzman. In 2010, Scott McInnis even debated opponent Dan Maes, who went on to win the GOP nomination after McInnis imploded in a plagiarism scandal. We'd have to go back to the pre-Bill Owens era for more examples, because we're pretty sure he debated Republican primary opponent Tom Norton back in 1998 as well.
The point is, it's really weird to have a gubernatorial primary in Colorado with no debates. Under no circumstances should the campaigns of Scott Gessler or Tom Tancredo be able to pass this off as business as usual. It is not. And at least one gubernatorial primary contender, Sen. Greg Brophy, is livid about having no chance to directly face his higher-profile opponents. Bartels:
"If you're not willing to get on the stage to debate me and the other guys, how on earth are you going to be prepared to go up against Gov. Hickenlooper?" Brophy said. [Pols emphasis]
From a purely strategic perspective, Gessler was smart to pull out of the debates once Tancredo had made his decision; it helps Gessler position himself alongside Tancredo as one of the two GOP frontrunners. Brophy is justifiably upset, since his inability to raise money makes attacking Republicans through earned media his only real campaign strategy. The one candidate who is hurt most by this news is Mike Kopp, who has been outmaneuvered in such a way that he now looks like a second-tier candidate alongside Brophy.
As for why this is happening, there's really no sugar coating it. One of the greatest threats to the candidacies of both Gessler and Tancredo are their own unvarnished words. The last time they appeared on stage together for a candidate forum was last November, which resulted in damaging audio of all candidates present denying human contribution to climate change in sweepingly ignorant fashion. Tancredo in particular has years of experience as a walking, talking gaffe machine—you bet he thinks debates only "give Democrats fodder."
But folks, it's not the debates that give Democrats their "fodder." It's the candidates.