Dems’ Ad Strategy Boomerangs in Colorado

by Rob Witwer

Four years ago, Colorado Democrats ran heavy TV ads during the Republican gubernatorial primary to ensure that the weakest GOP candidate won the party’s nomination. Back then, it worked.

This year, Democrats went back to the same well. And it backfired spectacularly.

By spending half a million dollars on TV ads supporting GOP candidate and former congressman Tom Tancredo, Democratic funders showed the whole world their hand: They wanted Tancredo in November. Presumably, they reasoned that having Tancredo at the top of the GOP ticket would enhance Governor John Hickenlooper’s reelection prospects and, importantly, dampen Congressman Cory Gardner’s robust challenge to incumbent senator Mark Udall.

Not only did the Democratic bear-hug not help Tancredo, it probably cost him the race. Prior to the ads, Tancredo was leading in the polls. But news that Democrats were meddling in the GOP primary awakened grassroots activists and shook loose money that had been sitting on the sidelines. As a direct result of the Democratic ads, a group called Republicans Who Want to Win was able to raise the funds it needed to buy last-minute air time in two critical counties, providing the margin Bob Beauprez needed to win the GOP primary.

Colorado Republicans — and Cory Gardner especially — owe the Dems a big thank you.

— Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado house of representatives and co-author of the book The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care).