DA Mark Hurlbert failed to make the August 10, Colorado Republican primary ballot for state Senate District 16 after
producing only 394 valid petition signatures, the Secretary of State’s office announced. Hurlbert submitted 1,118 signatures, but the Secretary’s office invalidated 724 – giving Hurlbert the distinction of the largest invalidation rate in Colorado memory. Hurlbert, labeled a “moderate” by mainstream media and his recruiters, was crushed by Tim Leonard 71-29 percent at the State Assembly. Leonard is a conservative/libertarian businessman from Evergreen, who garnered huge tea party support. Despite the magnitude of the assembly loss, Hurlbert decided to try the petition route – the only Republican who participated in the State Assembly to gamble on such a long-shot.
Leonard will now face liberal Democrat, Jeanne Nicholson, a Gilpin county commissioner, in the general election and will not have to waste money and effort in a primary contest. Political analysts, such as Ben Degrow, consider Senate District 16 a must-win for Republicans to regain control of the state Senate from the Democrats, who hold a 21-14 majority.
Leonard’s victory marks yet another success of a private sector, tea party candidate over the Republican party leadership’s pick. Hurlbert, a career prosecutor like Bill Ritter, was recruited in January by Senate Minority leader, Josh Penry, and state Senator Al White, even though Leonard had already entered the race and was campaigning effectively.
Party leaders cynically used Hurlbert’s prowess as a skier and mountaineer in an attempt to market him as a moderate, “green Republican.” Hurlbert and his handlers must have thought substantive discussion of issues was some kind of political third rail, making him the only candidate in Colorado I’m aware of to refuse to put an issues section on his website.
In thinking Hurlbert would be more electable than Leonard, he and his recruiters failed to clue-in that a candidate typically must run an effective campaign to get elected. Penry and the others did a poor job of vetting their candidate, and thought the voters would fall for generalities and spin about phony electoral prowess.
In his Assembly speech, Hurlbert clearly mislead his audience, including the media, by touting his victory in the 2008 DA’s race – an election in which Hurlbert failed to mention he’d run unopposed. Was Penry complicit in this misleading spin, or did he just fail to exercise due diligence?
Unaccustomed to anything but nominal opposition, Hurlbert ran a “lazy and complacent” campaign, according to one Republican party official knowledgable about the race. Hurlbert raised barely $15,000 in the entire campaign, compared to Leonard’s $70,000. And so much for Penry’s hopes of Hurlbert’s popularity generating big support from Summit County. Only 12 Summit residents contributed to his campaign. Perhaps Penry and other party leaders from different parts of Colorado mistook a lack of critical coverage of Hurlbert in the local media for popularity.
Hurlbert has more excuses for his campaign’s failures than a criminal defendant coming before the same judge after violating probation for the fourteenth time. After I broke the story of his stealth petition effort (apparently designed to draw minimal attention upon likely failure), Lynn Bartels picked up the story, and Hurlbert and Al White told her a flyer distributed at the assembly by the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners that supposedly distorted Hurlbert’s gun record prompted him to petition. I’ve followed Hurlbert as much as anyone in the media, and I am unaware of any record he has on gun rights. He pointedly avoided telling Lynn Bartels what it might be, too.
The following Saturday, Hurlbert was caught on this video taken at the June 5, Eagle County Lincoln Dinner, with an entirely different version of events – one that makes no mention of guns at all. It’s only a minute and a half long, but it’s loaded with at least five misleading statements, and enough nervous body language to occupy both the Tim Roth character on Lie to Me and Bill O’Reilly’s body language expert. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDkjNAF4kpY
Here’s a quick fact check of Hurlbert’s misrepresentations:
1. Hurlbert lost by two votes, not one; 2. He had at least four days to petition, not three (seven had he been prepared for defeat); 3. Ballot problems caused it (all ballot procedures were approved by both candidates, before the vote and after – and he’s the lawyer in the crowd); 4. Great volunteer effort – no, he used mostly paid signature collectors and spent at least $3,000 of his contributors’ funds on this long-shot; 5. He didn’t submit “1,200” signatures; only 1,118- quite a rounding error, given the importance of invalidation rates.
Once the petition failure was announced, Hurlbert still refused to accept responsibility for a botched campaign. Details aside, he lost at the assembly 71-29 percent. What did he think would change in the next two months to prompt him to be the only Republican who participated in the assembly to try a long-shot petition effort? Was it that he didn’t have a dime of his own or his wife’s money in the campaign, so what the heck? After all, every dime he spends on the job as DA involves playing with other people’s money in deciding what should and should not be prosecuted? He told Lynn Bartels:
“It’s like a court case. If you’re not happy with the result you appeal, so I’m appealing to the people.”
Actually, private citizens who have to spend their own money on an appeal need to do a cost-benefit analysis, and can’t just launch an appeal because they’re “not happy” with the result. But when you use other people’s money, I guess the calculus is different.
After losing this contribution-funded appeal to the people, Hurlbert commented that his 65 percent invalidation rate might have been a result of Democrats collecting signatures, as if the career government lawyer can’t be expected to follow the rules. He even suggested if that pesky and antiquated rule that only Republican signatures count toward the 1,000 wasn’t in the way, the result might have been different.
“That we collected 1,100 signatures in three [sic] days was pretty incredible. I think it does show that I had support among rank-and-file Republicans. And there were also independents and Democrats saying, ‘Mark, I can’t sign, but I support you.’”
When the Summit Daily asked Hurlbert what he could have done differently, he did not mention any improvements he might have made to his campaign despite the glaring deficiencies. Instead, he took a move from Coach Josh Penry’s playbook and said he would have avoided the assembly altogether and petitioned from the start.
Hurlbert notably failed to congratulate Tim Leonard on running an outstanding campaign and failed to even muster a phone call after conceding defeat.