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Welcome to your last Trail Marker newsletter, and your final wrap-up of this year's Colorado governor's race with a look at other hot contests and issues leading to the November general election. 

The Closing Arguments

COLORADO SPRINGS — On Friday, the Democratic ticket swung through conservative El Paso County in a big blue bus where Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jared Polis's running mate Dianne Primavera headlined a stop outside a community center. Her closing argument to voters: "There's a lot riding on this," she told me. One of those things, she said, is healthcare "and the reason Jared I think picked me is because healthcare is so important ... If healthcare is important to you, get out and vote." (A breast cancer survivor and former lawmaker, Primavera has reportedly waged more battles with health insurers "than any other legislators in the past decade.")

That evening, Polis spoke to a crowd of about 50 at the Relevant Word Christian Cultural Center in the Springs. "I think what we've all learned in the last few years is we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines," he said. "And see our nation move backward rather than forward. Backward towards a more divisive past and backward towards a rhetoric and feelings that we thought and we hoped that we had left behind." 

With just days to go until the Tuesday, Nov. 6  Election Day, Polis and his opponent, Republican Walker Stapleton, are crisscrossing Colorado, making their closing statements to voters. 

On Thursday, the Republican ticket traveled across the state on a campaign tour. In Pueblo, Stapleton told voters his opponent "is a radical, extreme departure from Hickenlooper." At a campaign stop in Greeley, he criticized Prop. 112, a ballot measure to limit fracking, and reminded gas-patch voters of Polis's previous support for setbacks even though Polis also opposes Prop. 112. In Grand Junction, Stapleton's message to voters was this: "My 10-year-old, he said, 'Dad, tonight on Halloween, I'm going to get five pounds of candy' ... What I didn't tell him was Dad was confiscating 4.9 pounds and redistributing it in true Jared Polis style." That evening, the candidate settled in back at home and held a telephone town hall, taking questions from callers. In these final days on the campaign trail, Stapleton is holding out hope for "a silent majority of Coloradans who understand what’s at stake, from health care to energy to education in this election."

This week, Polis and Stapleton each appeared on separate days for a TV interview on the nightly 9News TV show Next to make their end-of-the-campaign pitches. Neither made a game-changer of the opportunity.
Republican Stapleton made a point to talk about his personal friendships with Democrats like Mike Johnston and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and noted how current Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper's wife is the godmother to one of his children. "I have all of their cellphone numbers readily available," Stapleton said. He said he wanted voters to know that Polis is more closely aligned with Bernie Sanders than he is Hickenlooper. Asked if Stapleton would have done anything differently in the campaign, he said he wished his personality came through better. "I'm a pretty fun guy," he said. "In my youth, I toured with The Grateful Dead ... I was a Deadhead, I'll admit it ... and I really want my personality to come out and I'm not so sure it has come out in the way that I would most like it."

Polis said, "The last thing we should do is spend more on health care," and said none of his policies would "involve throwing money at health care." He said he believes he could implement his plans for full-day kindergarten by using existing money in the state budget, but would likely need new revenue for pre-school and suggested a public-private partnership. About whether he would have done anything differently in his campaign, Polis said he regretted using the term "fake news" to describe a credible media report. "Especially given what's happening and how media is under attack, that was a very poor choice of words," he said. 

Asked what questions the candidates hear most from voters but less from reporters, Polis said climate change and Stapleton said apprehension about whether residents can still afford to live in Colorado. 

They never did release those tax returns

This one's worth hammering home in the final days of this election because it shows we might be in a new era with a new precedent set. In a departure from what political observers say is a longstanding tradition in Colorado, Polis and Stapleton refused to release their tax returns by playing a game of you-show-me-yours-I'll-show-you-mine mutually-assured destruction. Or distraction. And I do wonder how much Donald Trump has to do with it.

Polis himself once said, "Tax returns provide an important baseline disclosure because they contain highly instructive information, including whether the candidate can be influenced by foreign entities and reveal any conflicts of interest." When I noted to Stapleton in an interview in the spring how tax returns could illuminate something important, he told me, “I think that’s stupid and dumb and the only people that care about that are political enemies trying to savage somebody for something.”

It was in May when The Colorado Independent first asked all eight candidates for governor if they would release their tax returns, leading to some interesting responses. Reporters dogged Polis and Stapleton about it through September and October to no avail. The idea that voters should get a peek at a candidate's taxes "goes back 20 years at least," says longtime consultant and former Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams.

But do voters really even care? 

"I think some voters do," says Jeff Roberts, director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. "Especially when you have wealthier candidates that might have substantial investments. Some voters will care about whether there are potential conflicts and getting tax returns could help alleviate any concerns people might have. I think there is a transparency issue here that some voters definitely will care about." 

As for Polis and Stapleton on that? Here's their answer: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Who are the third-party candidates for governor?

I caught up with Scott Helker, the Libertarian candidate for governor, and Bill Hammons, the Unity Party's nominee to get their closing remarks and check in for the final days of their long-shot campaigns.

Helker, a former attorney and real estate investor in Golden, told me he'll be happy if he gets 4 percent of the vote. The first-time candidate says he's taking an inverted approach to politics, running for governor to build up name recognition so he can one day run for a more local office in Jefferson County. What's his Big Idea for Colorado that sets him apart from the two major party candidates? "Some people get upset with me but I really want to reintroduce beavers on a large level," he says. It's part of his plan to help refill aquifers and get water volume levels back up to snuff. He has said he would also want to take on housing and the opioid crisis. He'd also like to turn the state's pension system into one where any Colorado resident could participate. Not that he's really out there running a big-time professional campaign for governor, anyway. "There's really not that much interest in me, to be honest," he said. You can read Helker's answers to our candidate questionnaire if you're looking for an alternative choice this year. (As of Friday, a little fewer than 10,000 registered Libertarians had cast ballots.) 

Hammons, a 44-year-old pro-death penalty life-insurance salesman, who made headlines when he announced proposing to abolish the state income tax, bring back firing squads and conquering parts of Mexico to create a path from Colorado to the ocean, says he'll call it a success if he gets 10 percent of the vote on Tuesday. "We're not spoilers," he says of his Unity Party. "The system is already rotten to the core." As for what he sees as the biggest differences between himself and the other candidates on the ballot, Hammons says he and Polis see eye to eye on many issues and he differs more with Stapleton's views. He says we need to take "drastic, dramatic action about global warming here in Colorado." So he would want to see a carbon tax and then shift to a "carbon-free economy" in the next couple of decades. 

What the latest polls say

Two polls out this week — one from a Democratic pollster and another from a Republican one — show Polis ahead with just four days to go. The polls don't differ much from a handful of previous surveys that had the Democratic candidate ahead throughout the contest. A poll by Democratic pollster Chris Keating conducted from Oct. 25 to Oct. 30 showed Polis 8 percentage points in the lead. Republican pollster David Flaherty's survey from Oct. 29 to Oct. 30 showed Polis ahead by 5 percentage points. Each had a margin of error of about 4 percent. 

Here's the money quote: “In 23 years of polling in Colorado, a statewide candidate with this type of consistent 7- to 8-point lead in the polls has never lost the election,” Chris Keating said in a statement. “Our statistical model gives Jared Polis a 98 percent chance of winning.”

Taking his own survey data into account, "and a real chance that Democrat and unaffiliated turnout will exceed 2014 levels," Flaherty said, "it is safe to say that Jared Polis has the inside track of becoming the next governor of Colorado."

If there's one thing I've heard from Republicans since the 2016 presidential election, though, it's "Do you really believe in polls?" We'll see on Tuesday. 

Trump doubled down on Stapleton for the base

On the day the poll numbers came out, President Donald Trump sought to blunt their impact on the news cycle. Stapleton, Trump tweeted on Nov. 1, "will be an extraordinary Governor for the State of Colorado. He is strong, smart, and has been successful at everything he has ever done.... His opponent, Jared Polis, is weak on crime and weak on borders – could never do the job. Get out and VOTE – Walker has my Complete and Total Endorsement! " The Colorado Republican Party sent out an email blast, and urged supporters to "Check out his tweet below and take his advice." Earlier in his campaign, Stapleton said he would have liked Trump to come to Colorado to campaign for him; the president hasn't yet. Stapleton, meanwhile, penned a column about his own candidacy for Fox News. 

Our deep dive into Prop. 110

While current Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the Prop. 110 ballot measure to increase the state sales tax to fund transportation, Polis hasn't taken a position and Stapleton opposes it. The latter has said his own hopes for transportation wouldn’t “misplace” taxpayer funds “in multimodal transportation, which just means bike lanes and public transit and solar-powered motorcycles.”

Prop. 110 is one of two dueling transportation ballot measures, along with Prop. 109, but only one of them would send money to multimodal transportation projects. This week, Tina Griego and I took a look at where the expected $767 million per year in new transportation dollars would go — and how it would flow — if Prop. 110 passes. 

Read our in-depth explainer about this important ballot measure here

On slavery, millennials, education, & judge parties

Our reporter Alex Burness wondered who in Colorado wouldn't celebrate voting for a constitutional amendment to end slavery here once and for all. And then he met these guys. Meanwhile, University of Colorado-Boulder intern Shannon Mullane set out to find how millennials feel about the question on your ballot that asks whether you want to change the state constitution to lower the minimum age of lawmakers from 25 to 21. What she found was this: Is the debate about Amendment V a debate about millennials themselves? Metro State University intern Forest Wilson answered a question readers have been asking us since ballots landed in the mailboxes: What's up with the property tax changes in the Amendment 73 tax increase for education? And I answered the question we have gotten asked perhaps more than any other this election cycle: What's the party affiliation of the judges on my ballot? 

Your end-of-the-week story roundup

We hope our small but mighty statewide nonprofit newsroom at The Colorado Independent is a first stop for your political news fix, whether you find us through our website, our Facebook page or on Twitter. But we also want to make sure you're reading all you can about this important race elsewhere. So here are a few choice stories on the contest for governor to keep you informed:
Still haven't voted? Confused about the candidates and issues?

We partnered with the League of Women Voters of Colorado on a Voter Guide — and we're here to help.

Just plug in your address and you can see what your ballot looks like and learn information about the candidates and issues. "Together, our team at The Colorado Independent and the League of Women Voters’ leadership developed in-depth questions for each candidate race," we wrote in our online introduction to the guide. 

And one last word: our nonprofit newsroom runs on your tax-deductible contributions. They are how we pay the bills —and right now we have a deal for you. Thanks to the generosity of several donors, we have a two-for-one newsmatch going on. You can turn your $5-a-month contribution into $15 a month. If you are already a donor, thank you. If not, please consider supporting our newsroom. We can't do this without you. 

That's it for the final edition of Trail Maker 2018. I hope we helped. — Corey 
Copyright © 2018 The Colorado Independent, All rights reserved.

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