Democratic candidates in close race for governor nomination

DENVER (AP) — Two Democrats fought a close contest to help their party hold on to Colorado's governor's office as Republicans pushed to take over for the first time in more than a decade in the marquee race of this purple state's midterm primaries Tuesday.

The contest to succeed two-term Gov. John Hickenlooper tops the primary, one in which unaffiliated voters, the state's largest voting bloc, could participate without having to affiliate with one or the other of the major parties. A voter-passed 2016 initiative allowed them to do so.

Republicans and Democrats offered starkly different post-Hickenlooper visions for Colorado's role — or resistance — in implementing Trump administration policies on immigration, the environment, taxes and health care.

Democrat Jared Polis, a five-term liberal congressman, and Cary Kennedy, a former state treasurer, offer stands on schools, energy and public lands to the left of the centrist Hickenlooper.

Former state Sen. Mike Johnston, himself an educator and gun control advocate, and former health executive Donna Lynne, Hickenlooper's lieutenant governor, rounded out the Democratic field.

Republicans hope to take a governor's office they haven't held since 2007, and the GOP race will select a challenger who offers a starkly different vision that aligns with Washington's immigration crackdown and attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a relation to President George W. Bush, has looked past the primary, criticizing Polis' $12 million investment in his campaign and the congressman's support for local control of fracking.

Victor Mitchell, a former state representative, portrays himself as an outsider and has invested nearly $5 million in his own campaign. Investment banker Doug Robinson, a nephew of former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is a first-time candidate for public office. Also running is Greg Lopez, a former Parker mayor and regional director for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The Republican candidates uniformly oppose any tampering with a constitutional amendment that restricts the state's ability to raise taxes and to spend. They embrace President Donald Trump's stands on immigration, tax cuts and promoting oil and gas — a $31 billion industry in Colorado. All differ with Trump on his trade policy, warning that tariffs and the initial stages of a global trade war will harm the state's economy.

Among the Democrats, Polis is a tech entrepreneur, former state board of education member and founder of English-language schools for immigrants. He has sparred with Kennedy over public education policy in the wake of teacher protests that gripped Colorado, Arizona and other states this spring.

All want to change the tax-and-spending amendment to confront Colorado's rapid population growth. All espouse universal health care, protecting public lands and promoting renewable energy.

Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams said his office invested $900,000 in educating unaffiliated voters about their opportunity to vote. Each received two ballots — one Democrat, one Republican — and, if they chose, could return just one of them by mail or at drop-off centers. Return both and they cancel out.

Kelly Kyle, a 40-year-old administrator for a food service company, slid her completed ballot into a downtown Denver drop box Tuesday. She felt the crowded field of Democrats in the governor's race were similar and ultimately based her decision to vote for Kennedy on the endorsement of EMILY's List, a political group that backs female Democratic candidates.

Kyle said she will support whoever wins the Democratic primary in November, but she wants to see "more progressive, pro-choice women" elected around the country.

"I definitely think it's advantageous to have more women in these positions to bring a different perspective," she said.

In suburban Denver's 6th Congressional District, two Democrats battled for the chance to unseat five-term Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman. Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger, was the party favorite. Levi Tillemann, a former adviser to the U.S. Energy Department during the Obama administration, tried to court anti-establishment forces on the left.

In El Paso County's 5th Congressional District, incumbent U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn faced a Republican primary challenge from state Sen. Owen Hill and Darryl Glenn, a county commissioner. The conservative district has elected Lamborn to six consecutive terms.

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Associated Press writers Brian Eason and Kathleen Foody contributed to this report.

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