Walker Stapleton speaks at a press conference Tuesday morning.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton dropped an absolute bomb on the GOP political landscape today with his announcement that he is withdrawing from the petition process for the Republican Primary and threatening a lawsuit against the political firm his campaign hired to get him on the ballot.
In a press conference outside the Colorado Secretary of State’s office Tuesday morning, Stapleton said he’ll now be looking to secure a spot on his party’s ballot through Saturday’s assembly.
He told the press Tuesday that his campaign was “defrauded” by signature gathering firm Kennedy Enterprises. He said there was “misconduct” in the way the signatures were collected, that the company lied to him and that he would be filing a lawsuit.
Media outlets across Colorado have been scrambling to report on questionable signatures and petitions collected by Kennedy Enterprises, a firm that was also hired by the campaigns for Doug Lamborn (CD-5) and Polly Lawrence (State Treasurer). Lamborn’s campaign was already in a court hearing this morning defending its petitions for the June Primary ballot when Stapleton’s campaign released a letter to the Secretary of State’s office alleging fraud by Kennedy Enterprises in the signature collection process. Here is the full text of that letter:
Last night my campaign learned that Kennedy Enterprises, LLC, the signature gathering firm we retained to conduct and manage our petition gathering process, engaged in fraudulent conduct when gathering signatures in support of my candidacy for Governor. [Pols emphasis] Specifically, Kennedy Enterprises employed a “trainee circulator” by the name of Daniel Velasquez and allowed this individual to circulate petitions which were then executed by another circulator as though that circulator – and not Mr. Velasquez – had circulated them.
Kennedy Enterprises repeatedly lied to my campaign when we asked them about news reports alleging this conduct weeks ago. Until last night, Dan Kennedy and those working for him insisted that no such individual had ever worked for Kennedy Enterprises. Worse than lying to my campaign, they lied to your office when your office specifically asked about these news reports.
Because I can now have absolutely no confidence in the representations of Kennedy Enterprises as to the conduct of our petition campaign, I must request that your office reject all signatures we submitted and withdraw the Statement of Sufficiency you issued to my campaign last Friday. [Pols emphasis] While I know that the signatures on the petitions were independently verified by your office as those of real Colorado republicans [sic], I cannot and will not allow my name to go onto the primary election ballot in this manner.
Both I and my campaign team hope that your office will conduct an investigation into Kennedy Enterprises. We stand ready to assist in any way we can.
The fallout from Stapleton’s surprise announcement is, in a word, massive. In order to keep his bid for Governor alive, Stapleton is all but destroying at least two other Republican campaigns, with potentially more political carnage to come (including Kennedy Enterprises, a GOP consulting firm that is now as good as dead). Stapleton’s move this morning is a clear effort to avoid — at all costs — the kind of exhaustive media coverage that essentially killed the 2016 Senate campaign of Republican Jon Keyser.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) is hosed.
First, Congressman Doug Lamborn, who is seeking re-election to his seventh term, is probably toast; Stapleton’s public challenge of Kennedy Enterprises likely cripples Lamborn’s defense of his own petitions, many of which would have been circulated by the same group of employees and contractors. If Lamborn’s petitions are invalid, then he will not be on the June Primary ballot and the Colorado Springs area will elect a new Congressman — either Owen Hill or Darryl Glenn. Lamborn’s hopes of being on the ballot were looking grim anyway, but Stapleton’s announcement should be the nail in this coffin.
Republican candidate for Treasurer Polly Lawrence is probably not going to get her name on the June Primary ballot, either, unless by some miracle she is able to garner at least 30% of the vote in Saturday’s state GOP assembly (she had not been organizing an effort to win over Republican delegates). Whatever problems existed with Stapleton’s petitions almost certainly exist with Lawrence’s signatures. Lawrence appeared to be one of the top Republican candidates for State Treasurer, and her absence from the field will open up a new lane for others.
Stapleton’s move to put all of his eggs in the assembly basket has a domino effect in the Governor’s race as well. Republican Barry Farah, who was a late entry into the field, today pulled out of a Republican gubernatorial debate at 9News scheduled for Thursday. Farah says that he still plans to compete at Saturday’s state assembly with the goal of knocking Attorney General Cynthia Coffman from the race. Don’t be surprised to see Farah pull out of the field altogether to throw his support behind Stapleton, who absolutely must make top-line at the assembly to avoid significantly weakening his GOP frontrunner status. In short, Stapleton’s announcement today may be the killing blows for both Farah and Coffman’s gubernatorial bids.
And then there’s Secretary of State Wayne Williams, whose office initially approved Stapleton’s petitions for ballot access. Williams has a lot of explaining to do himself.
Doug Lamborn. Polly Lawrence. Cynthia Coffman. Barry Farah. Wayne Williams. Dan Kennedy. Something tells us that there is more to come about Stapleton’s involvement with sketchy signature gathering, but if he nevertheless manages to get elected Governor in November, it will be because he drove a bus over a whole bunch of other Republicans in the process.