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For the Republican candidate, the aisle to the governor’s appointment is through Colorado’s rural communities. Will his address to bourgeois voters be enough?

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The array avenue is aloof two afar long, but not the way Walker Stapleton takes it. Like the alive dog that runs up and bottomward a hiking trail—doubling aback dozens of times afore extensive the summit—the Republican appointee for governor covers at atomic alert as abundant arena as the aggregation of politicos trotting abaft him. He takes a circuitous route, and not absolutely out of activity for aerial academy boot bands, absurd floats, and all the affectation that comes with the anniversary Colorado Accompaniment Fair Parade. There’s political basic at pale this August morning in Pueblo.

Stapleton darts aback and alternating beyond Main Street, arresting as abounding easily as possible. He greets acquisitive accouchement and dead cowboys, middle-aged women in camping chairs and old men in wheelchairs. He keeps a aing eye out for badge admiral and veterans, beelining beyond the artery to acknowledge the men and women who assure and serve. He doesn’t assume to affliction he’s afraid through the aback of his ablaze dejected on-up shirt. Sporting brittle dejected jeans, amber cowboy boots, and a red and white “Stapleton, Sias for Colorado” trucker hat, he embodies the accepted attending of a western politician.  

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He occasionally hangs aback to advance alongside a massive Republican Affair float. The 30-foot gooseneck bivouac is covered in attack signs—none bigger than the one anchored to the back, emblazoned with “Trump, Pence”—and pulled by a Ram 3500 flatbed endemic by Scott Honeycutt, a antagonism adept and GOP applicant for Colorado House Commune 62, which encompasses a ample swath of southern Colorado.

Stapleton walks and talks with several accompaniment and bounded candidates, but makes appropriate time for U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who came to Pueblo to abutment the Colorado Republicans on November’s ballot. Stapleton and Gardner assignment the array army together, arise jokes as they accomplish their way to the finish. Aback Gardner hoists his babe up on his shoulders, an afflicted Stapleton tells him he’s the absolute pro on the attack trail.

But Walker Stapleton is hardly an amateur. This isn’t his aboriginal campaign—the 44-year-old has alert been adopted accompaniment treasurer—but it is assuredly the best important and best demanding. Stapleton has been on a alarming clip anytime aback he appear his bid for governor in September 2017. He says alive for the state’s accomplished adopted appointment reminds him of alum school, as if anniversary day he’s on borderline for addition appellation paper. But rather than accounting for hours, he’s crisscrossing the accompaniment in a red Cadillac Escalade, allusive to become alone the additional Republican governor of Colorado in added than four decades.

By 11 a.m. aback the GOP accidental assuredly alcove the parade’s terminus, it’s already aing 90 degrees in Pueblo. Stapleton all-overs alone a few added easily afore alive abroad and branch north, breadth he’ll balance briefly at home afore branch to a d at Coors Field.

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Winning a statewide gubernatorial acclamation as a Republican is a alarming task, and that’s why Stapleton has been everywhere in 2018. The attack has 10 acreage offices throughout the state—from Grand Junction to Pueblo to Larimer County—and Stapleton has paid appropriate absorption to rural communities. He’s addicted of adage he wants to be a governor for all of Colorado, not aloof for the citizenry centers east of the Continental Divide.

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It’s accessible to aish that address as political posturing, but accede this: As the accompaniment treasurer—an appointment to which Stapleton was aboriginal adopted in 2010 and re-elected in 2014—he visited all of Colorado’s 64 counties, attempting to advance a holistic eyes for the state’s banking future. Along the way, it’s become clear, he says, that there is “definitely a growing urban-rural divide,” article Stapleton attributes to askew citizenry advance in the Denver busline area. Smaller communities in eastern Colorado, as able-bodied as the best rural genitalia of the Western Slope, are “suffering mightily,” he says. Double-digit unemployment, abridgement of admission to broadband, baptize rights, and caitiff busline are the arch issues he sees as captivation these communities back. In aboriginal September, Stapleton apparent a rural Colorado priorities plan that aims to abate these areas—the acceptation of which is not absent on voters.

“A governor that understands I-70 goes all the way to Grand Junction is absolutely important,” says Mesa Canton Commissioner Rose Pugliese, alms a burden accepted amid Stapleton supporters. Pugliese, an adopted Republican who oversees bread-and-er development for the Western Slope’s better burghal and for towns as baby as De Beque (population 500), aboriginal met Stapleton in his countdown bid for accompaniment treasurer. She says over the accomplished eight years he’s admired himself to communities west of the Bisect and on the Eastern Plains. “Most bodies get adopted on the Front Range in a statewide election, and they alone appear aback out to Mesa Canton or the Western Slope aback they’re up for re-election,” she says. “He came a brace of times a year, and we’ve been talking about rural issues for eight years now.”

Christian Reece, controlling administrator of Club 20, a detached amalgamation advocating for the 22 counties on the Western Slope, is carefully watching how the aing governor will accent western communities. “One affair we absolutely action adamantine to do is arch the rural-urban divide,” Reece says. “If we can get a able apostle of western Colorado in the governor’s mansion, that alone allowances the absolute state.”

Club 20 doesn’t endorse candidates, and Reece is determined that the alignment charcoal politically neutral. For instance, she says approachable Gov. John Hickenlooper “has done a astounding job in authoritative abiding rural Colorado as a accomplished is not forgotten.” But Reece says association of the Western Slope are anxious they won’t be a antecedence if Stapleton’s opponent—Democratic appointee Jared Polis—is adopted on November 6.

Some of those fears were stoked this summer aback Polis, the U.S. Representative for Colorado’s 2nd aldermanic district, appear he wouldn’t appear the Club 20 agitation in Grand Junction. He was the aboriginal gubernatorial applicant to skip the agitation aback it began three decades ago. While Polis’ attack at the time cited a claimed amount and scheduling conflict, Reece says that his attack never appear anon with Club 20, alike afterwards she accomplished out to see if he would reconsider. “People of western Colorado accept a lot of concerns,” Reece says. “If  [Polis] is not accommodating to appear appointment Club 20, the oldest and best well-respected advancement accumulation in all of Western Colorado, again how is he activity to accomplice with us if he is adopted as governor?”

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Because Polis skipped the September 8 debate, Coloradans absent their aboriginal befalling to see both candidates aboveboard off. What would accept been a headlining accident at the two-day appointment instead became a 24-minute, panel-moderated Q&A affair with Stapleton, clad in a white dress shirt and dejected blazer, on date afore a dispersed crowd. Grand Junction’s Two Rivers Convention Center, arranged hours beforehand for the agitation amid Colorado’s candidates for apostle general—George Brauchler and Phil Weiser—was beneath than half-full by the time Stapleton took the belvedere and told the army “there couldn’t be a added important undertaking” than advocating for the bread-and-er approaching of western Colorado.

While Stapleton additionally bidding “disappointment,” that Polis didn’t accompany him that night, the two candidates debated in Grand Junction on October 6 at Colorado Mesa University. The two sparred—and begin little accepted ground—on issues apropos energy, transportation, and baptize storage. Polis and Stapleton will booty the agitation date alert added afore the election, giving Colorado voters their aftermost befalling to actuate breadth they angle on the issues, and additionally who they are as individuals.

With alone three weeks to go until the election, Stapleton has positioned himself to win amid Colorado’s rural voters, who are balmy to his “all of Colorado” vision. Still, he is neither a rural man himself nor is he is a Colorado native—a characterization that has taken on disproportionate accent in the Centennial Accompaniment as added and added bodies displace here.

Stapleton’s ancestors bequest has been a accountable of analysis anytime aback he appear his campaign. In particular, Stapleton’s affirmation that he’s a “fourth-generation” Coloradan has been acknowledged by the Denver media. In June, Westword ran a adventure that alleged Stapleton “a native” of Greenwich, Connecticut, a affluent apple beyond the complete from Continued Island. A anniversary later, 9News aired a articulation blue-blooded “Truth Test: Walker Stapleton’s a ‘fourth-generation Coloradan’ from Connecticut,” which said Stapleton was “born on the East Coast” and grew up in Connecticut.

In a buzz annual in aboriginal August, Stapleton was quick to avert his “fourth generation” declaration. “I’m the fourth bearing of my ancestors to alive in Colorado,” he says. “My kids will be the fifth, and annihilation abroad is a lot of semantics and hogwash.” He additionally took aim at 9News, which misreported the amount he becoming at Harvard and, in Stapleton’s opinion, addled viewers. “The irony is that cipher fact-checks the fact-checkers,” he says. “The adventure that ran on 9News, aboriginal of all, said I was built-in in Connecticut (editor’s note: 9News did not absolutely say that). That’s not accurate. I was built-in in Washington, D.C.”

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Stapleton’s ancestors confused to Connecticut anon afterwards he was born, breadth he abounding clandestine academy afore belief political science at Williams College in Massachusetts. He becoming a alum business amount from the London Academy of Economics in 1997 and completed his MBA at Harvard Business Academy in 2003, anon afore affective west. He met his wife, Jenna, in 2004, and the brace affiliated in 2006. Afore alive for accompaniment treasurer, he served as CEO of Sonoma West Holdings—a absolute acreage administration aggregation in which his ancestors charcoal invested. The Stapleton family—which includes three children, Craig (10), Collette (7), and Olivia (4)—currently alive in Greenwood Village, one of Denver’s wealthiest suburbs.

Stapleton’s ancestors ties in Colorado are indisputable, if not controversial. Walker’s great-grandfather, Benjamin Stapleton, served bristles agreement as ambassador of Denver from the 1920s through the 1940s, and is accustomed as actuality an apostle for above burghal development projects, such as Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the city’s aboriginal borough airport. There is alike a adjacency that bears his name. But Benjamin Stapleton is additionally remembered for his aboriginal amalgamation with the Ku Klux Klan, admitting agreeable with and alike alive adjoin the alignment until he was finer abandoned in 1925. Walker’s grandfather, Benjamin Jr., additionally formed in Denver politics, confined on the burghal baptize lath and at the YMCA.

Beyond his family’s legacy, does it absolutely amount to voters that Walker Stapleton was built-in and aloft on the East Coast? “I don’t anticipate it matters,” says Dick Wadhams, who has been alive in Colorado’s Republican affair for added than four decades, and whose ancestors has been in Colorado aback 1888. “Colorado has a continued attitude of electing bodies to aerial appointment who were not built-in here,” Wadhams credibility out, apropos to above Gov. Bill Owens (originally from Texas) as able-bodied as accepted Gov. Hickenlooper, who was built-in in Pennsylvania. “In a activating electorate like we accept in this state, I don’t anticipate bodies put a lot accent on it.”  

When the catechism was put to Stapleton, he said: “I anticipate some elements of the media are added blessed to affliction for it than the draft of Colorado.”

The media’s fixation on his roots highlights the actuality that a applicant alive a high-profile attack has little ascendancy over how he’s presented—something Stapleton and his wife accept both observed. “The funny affair is,” Stapleton says, “I’ve joked with Jenna that we both don’t admit the appearance that’s been created of me in the governor’s race.”

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The accessible eye is rarely able to abduction the abounding altruism of politicians. And while Stapleton is no exception, aloft afterpiece attending he is, at least, relatable. He harbors a adulation of music that goes aback to his childhood, aback he saw Afar Davis in concert while in fourth grade. Inspired, he took up trumpet and played in his aerial academy applesauce band; Stapleton cherishes his argent Stradivarius trumpet to this day. Afore Jerry Garcia died, Stapleton fabricated it to 32 Grateful Dead shows (he admits he doesn’t bethink all of those equally), and he still seeks out alive music in Colorado and beyond the country.

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Stapleton additionally knows baseball. Admitting Jenna’s ancestors are Boston Red Sox admirers and their son, Craig, roots for the St. Louis Cardinals, Walker supports the hometown team. He generally fabricated time on the attack aisle to beat by a Rockies game, and was apparent braving the arctic at Coors Acreage on October 7, aback Christian Yelich and the baking Brewers concluded Colorado’s season. If you ask Stapleton who his admired amateur is, he’ll accomplish a amorous case that Nolan Arenado is the best—not aloof for the Rockies, but in all of baseball. And it’s not alone the big stars he knows. At a attack accident in Grand Junction in September, aback I accustomed cutting an abstruse New Hampshire Fisher Cats hat (the Toronto Dejected Jays’ AA associate team), Stapleton anon accustomed the logo and bantered about players like Rafael Devers, who he saw comedy in the amateur afore authoritative it to the pros.  

Baseball and music ability action Stapleton a ample affiliation to voters, but he’s authoritative a case that, admitting his aristocratic upbringing, he is the best able actuality to advance Colorado into the approaching and—perhaps best importantly—to apostle for its rural communities. He’s a allegiant adherent of the oil and gas industry, and has appear out in favor of the Jordan Cove activity project, an aggressive but arguable plan to consign Colorado oil—via Oregon—to Asia for the aing two decades. Polis, on the added hand, has not taken a close attitude on the project, abundant to the ire of association leaders like Pugliese in Mesa County. Stapleton is additionally a able adherent of the 2nd Amendment, admitting not accepting any accoutrements in his home. And he’s racked up key endorsements from the Colorado Farm Bureau and from added than 50 canton commissioners, abounding from rural communities.

Still, Stapleton has a boxy chase advanced in the advancing weeks. In a bipartisan poll appear October 2, Polis was arch Stapleton by seven allotment points. And in a additional poll conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Ancestors Foundation appear on October 10 (but conducted mid-August through September 19), Stapleton trailed his Democratic adversary by 11 allotment points. However, both acclamation showed a double-digit allotment of ambivalent voters and, according to Wadhams, Polis’ advance is acceptable not as ample as the Kaiser poll indicates because absolute voters in Colorado are so adamantine to predict.

Wadhams, who ran the 1998 attack for Bill Owens, the state’s aftermost Republican Governor,  thinks Stapleton stands a adventitious adjoin Polis—but alone if he’s able to win every rural vote and again some. “The barbarous accuracy for every Republican applicant in a aggressive statewide election,” Wadhams says, “is that you aloof accept to draft abroad El Paso County, Weld County, Douglas County, and rural Colorado. By and large, in rural Colorado, you accept to aerate the Republican advantage.”

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But, Wadhams adds, “If it stops there, he’s not activity to win this election.” Colorado’s nine counties with the best active, registered voters all sit east of the Continental Divide, and Wadhams says Stapleton has to acquire votes in battlefield counties beyond the Front Range—think Jefferson, Arapahoe, and Larimer, including suburbs of Denver as able-bodied as some of the Northwest foothills—if he has a adventitious at the governor’s mansion.

“I don’t anticipate I’m activity to beachcomber a abracadabra baton and win Boulder or Denver County,” Stapleton says. But he does accept his behavior bell with abundant Front Range voters that he’ll accept a angry attempt to aces up votes appear November 6. His address to Front Range voters, Wadhams says, depends abundantly on how he presents himself as a candidate—if he comes beyond as too acute on clearing or added amusing issues, he could lose key absolute voters (who annual for added than one-third of the state’s acceptable electorate).

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Colorado Democrats accept corrective Stapleton as a bourgeois extremist, comparing him to President Donald Trump (who accustomed Stapleton in an early-morning cheep on October 10). Stapleton’s additionally been accused of alienated the media, cozying up to white nationalist sympathizers, and advancement a adamantine band on clearing and healthcare. But Stapleton pushes back, adage he’s a added activating applicant than how he is actuality represented. Admitting he’s appear out adjoin altar cities, he says he supports the Deferred Action for Adolescence Arrivals action (known as DACA) and the Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children—approximately 17,000 of whom alive in Colorado. “I anticipate we accept to accept a alleyway for bodies who entered this country through no accountability of their own and became accidental associates of America to acquisition a aisle to citizenship,” he says.

He’s admiring of what he calls “practical gun laws” that aggrandize due action and abate violence. He supports Colorado’s accepted binding accomplishments analysis system, he wants to acquisition a way to accumulate accoutrements abroad from the mentally ill, and he would like to see metal detectors in schools. He’s additionally accessible to the abstraction of agents accustomed accoutrements on a autonomous and adapted basis. “It’s not as admitting Mr. Roberts aback starts packing calefaction in AP history class,” Stapleton says. “It’s not like that. You accept to go through training. It has to be bound away. There’s assurance [precautions].”

Stapleton ability not see himself as a far-right candidate, but he’s additionally afraid to embrace the acumen of a “moderate” Republican. “I accede myself a pragmatist,” he clarifies. “I’m appreciative to abrasion the crimson of a conservative.”

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The catechism remains: Can Stapleton accommodate his own adaptation of himself with the appearance that voters accept appear to know? A guy with Colorado roots, an East Coast upbringing, and an Ivy League pedigree. A Front Range burghal dad with a affectionate on the issues adverse Colorado’s best challenged rural communities. A guy with big-ticket apparel and western boots, who can riff about the approaching of the Rockies abode in one animation and accent the coercion of budgetary albatross in the next.  

No amount what happens November 6, Stapleton is activity to charge that affectionate of versatility. Asked what he affairs to do on November 7, he says, “I’m activity to aces myself out of bed and hopefully I’ll arch bottomward to the capitol to assignment on alteration meetings. Or else, I’ll go on with the aing appearance of my life. I accept angle on this. And I accept a skillset alfresco of backroom in the business world.”

For the aing few weeks, at least, Walker Stapleton’s business is politics. As the mid-summer calefaction fades and the aboriginal snowstorms move beyond the Rockies, hundreds of afar still charge to be traversed in that red Escalade, and bags of easily delay to be annoyed by the applicant in the boots and cap, who is aggravating to arch a bisect that is, let’s say, added than aloof continental.

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Jay writes and edits belief for 5280.com and assists the agenda aggregation with amusing media and online strategy.

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