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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, left, speaks with CBS4's Shaun Boyd, center, and Walker Stapleton before the television news station's debate, in partnership with The Colorado Sun, on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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A month before Election Day, the stakes for the first debate in the race for Colorado governor are significant.

The 6 p.m. Friday debate — sponsored by CBS4, Colorado Public Television, KOA NewsRadio and The Colorado Sun — will give Polis and Stapleton the first opportunity to offer their own vision for the state and make the best case against their opponent.

WATCH: Visit at 6 p.m. Friday to watch a live-stream of the debate.

And the pressure is on Republican Walker Stapleton in particular. He’s down in the polls. Democratic rival Jared Polis is a better policy wonk. And the conventional wisdom is against him.

Nic Garcia in The Denver Post says Stapleton has a good bit of work to do: “Stapleton still hasn’t begun to define himself to a broader electorate. His first ad wasn’t about him, it was about Polis. So, he’s going to have to use the debate to sell himself as more than just the not-Jared gubernatorial candidate. At the same time, he’s going to have to pick at Polis without coming off as a bully.”

The left-leaning opinion writer Mike Litwin writes in the Colorado Independent: “You’ll definitely hear Stapleton trying to persuade viewers that Polis is too liberal for Colorado. To this point, that strategy doesn’t seem to be working, and maybe that’s because on many of the big issues — starting with health care and immigration — the numbers seem to support Polis. And clearly Stapleton needs some issue that works for him beyond an opponent’s choice of residence.”

Esteban Hernandez in Denverite expects fireworks: “We’ve already seen them call each out other during the primaries, at conferences and on Twitter. Will we see something similar onstage?”

The Friday show is the first of six televised debates in the governor’s race, in addition to a handful of other forums. It comes just days before Oct. 15, when county clerks can start mailing ballots.

The most recent major poll in the race shows Polis with a comfortable advantage over Stapleton — 47 percent to 40 percent — putting the onus on the Republican to close the gap.

MORE: Read more Colorado Sun coverage of the 2018 elections 

Dick Wadhams, the former Republican Party chairman, said it’s not too late for Stapleton.

Wadhams recalls how former Sen. Wayne Allard and Gov. Bill Owens were down ahead of Election Day and won.

“Seven points is substantial, but not insurmountable,” he said at a political forum earlier this week at the University of Denver.


John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.