DENVER — Misleading political ads are nothing new. That's why we Truth Test them. What started airing this week, however, is misleading in a different way.
Democrats are meddling in Colorado's Republican primaries for Governor and Senate, giving a boost to certain candidates that are more extreme, hoping that Republican primary voters want extreme. And then, come November, hoping the extreme candidate is easier to beat.
One political ad attacks Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ron Hanks.
The other political ad attacks Republican Gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez.
"Greg Lopez is too conservative for Colorado," is the end of the political ad paid for by Colorado Information Network.
"Ron Hanks, too conservative for Colorado," is the end of the political ad paid for by Democratic Colorado.
"This ad is clearly an effort to help Ron Hanks win the primary even though it purports to be attacking him, and the reason is that because he's the one they would rather run against in November," said former state lawmaker Rob Witwer.
Witwer is a former Republican member of the Colorado State House and now an unaffiliated voter. He is a supporter of Hanks' opponent Joe O'Dea, but opposes the type of ad that appears to be attacking him.
"In this case, I support Joe O'Dea, however for me, this is bigger than any one race, this is really about the integrity of the electoral process," said Witwer. "Because of the timing of these, what they're doing is they're positioning one candidate as being the most conservative, which ostensibly is attacking that candidate, but in reality, what it's doing because of the timing, is that it's helping that candidate to win the primary."
Ads pointing out how conservative a Republican candidate is could help that candidate appeal to conservative Republicans voting in the June 28 primary. Democrats are not allowed to vote in the Republican primary, but unaffiliated voters can. Because of that, pointing out a conservative candidate in a backwards way to try to gain support for that candidate might not work.
Witwer, along with former 9NEWS political reporter Adam Schrager, wrote The Blueprint: How The Democrats Won Colorado And Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care. In it, they wrote about the 2010 Republican primary for governor. That's the race where lesser-known and lesser-funded Dan Maes defeated Scott McInnis, following a plagiarism scandal involving McInnis.
The Democratic Governors Association in Washington contributed $100,000 to political ads attacking McInnis, which benefited Maes who won by 5,000 votes.
"When we see it now, we recognize it for what it is which is manipulation of a party primary," said Witwer.
Democrat John Hickenlooper went on to become governor, handily defeating Maes, who finished third after former Congressman Tom Tancredo joined the race as a candidate for the American Constitution Party.
"The intent is clearly to deceive and mislead," said Witwer.
“We are an organization committed to ensuring that Colorado does not elect a Republican to the U.S. Senate and giving voters the facts about who’s running to represent them," said Alvina Vasquez, spokesperson for Democratic Colorado.
That purpose may be easier to achieve with Hanks as the Republican candidate against Sen. Michael Bennet. Hanks is an election conspiracy theorist who believes President Trump won the 2020 election. Last year, he sent out a fundraising letter blaming Antifa for the Jan. 6 insurrection and calling and said foreign intelligence could still prevent a Biden presidency ahead of the inauguration.
“...the last element of hope to rectify the election fraud is an intelligence drop of irrefutable information, possibly supported by foreign intelligence agencies,” wrote Hanks.
"It is trying to gain the opposite effect of what the ad states that it's doing, solely for the purposes of selecting the candidate that they are running against in November," said Witwer.
It appears the same technique is being used in the Republican race for governor. Colorado Information Network has spent $400,000 on political ads attacking Lopez. He faces Heidi Ganahl in the June 28 primary.
The ad similarly points out how conservative of a candidate Lopez would be.
Colorado Information Network spent hundreds of thousands in 2018 on political ads supporting Democratic and Libertarian candidates and opposing Republican candidates.
"It's common to have dishonesty and deception in political races, but this is a level of deception that goes beyond what we are accustomed to seeing and it crosses a line in my opinion," said Witwer.
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