Why a Republican has a chance in Denver's mayoral race
Andre "Andy" Rougeot is the odd duck in the Denver mayor's race.
What's happening: He's running as a law-and-order, less-government Republican in the state's Democratic epicenter, where the conversation is focused on how the city is overhauling police and boosting the social safety net.
Yes, but: The 34-year-old former small business owner — and son of Jean-André Rougeot, the CEO of beauty supplier Sephora Americas — has a real chance of finishing near the top in the crowded race and securing a spot in the inevitable June runoff election.
- He's loaned his campaign a half-million dollars and left open the possibility he'd put in more to get out his message, which is raising eyebrows among Democrats.
What they're saying: "If he can target his base appropriately and broaden his base to folks who might be Democrats but share his concerns, that could be a powerful candidate," said Steve Welchert, a veteran Democratic consultant.
State of play: In a 17-way race, where the top Democratic candidates are striving to reach north of 20% of the vote, Rougeot enters with a potential base of support: At least 10% of the city's voters are registered Republicans.
- The ballot won't list his party affiliation — the race is technically nonpartisan. And his top campaign issues — addressing crime and homelessness — also resonate with voters experiencing rising rates in both areas.
- In 2019, an overwhelming 81% of Denver voters upheld the current camping ban.
What he's saying: "When I talk to people in Denver, they are fed up," Rougeot told Axios Denver in an interview this week.
- "I meet people who say, 'I'll vote for anybody regardless of background regardless of their history as long as they can say they will enforce the camping ban, they will reduce crime and make housing more affordable.'"
The other side: Denver hasn't elected a Republican mayor in more than six decades, dating back to Richard Batterton, who left office in 1961.
- Rougeot is also working with national GOP consultants and campaigning in a state where his party's brand is toxic right now, a pitfall he acknowledged.
- "I think it's important for us as a city to be focused on somebody who can deliver and fight for our future instead of the national political issues," he said.
Between the lines: The other mayoral candidates in the race are emphasizing their experience as leaders in local and state government and nonprofits, setting them apart from Rougeot, a first-time candidate with no local government experience.
Details: The fact he's not a politician and his desire to upend City Hall is an element that Rougeot thinks will appeal to voters. Unlike other candidates, he's even willing to put challenging and unreachable benchmarks to his goals:
- Rougeot says he would end unsheltered homelessness entirely by moving people camping in public places to shelters or issuing citations.
- He would hire hundreds more police and reduce crime back to 2014 levels, the low point in the last decade.
- And he pledged to make housing more affordable by shortening permitting times and cutting regulations to build.
Zoom in: Rougeot says his military experience also sets him apart. "I am a father, small business owner and veteran, and I think that resonates with people," he says.
- He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2011 and became an intelligence officer with a cavalry squadron stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. He says he later served as a drone platoon leader.
- He resigned as a first lieutenant and was honorably discharged in December 2014, according to a portion of his military record provided to Axios Denver. He was later promoted to captain in the inactive reserves.
The intrigue: He volunteered for a 105-day deployment with the Army Rangers to Afghanistan in 2013, where he served as a daytime intelligence officer for the 3rd Battalion.
- He worked to prevent suicide bomb attacks in the capital Kabul through the drone operation from Forward Operating Base Shank, he said.
Between the lines: This is mentioned prominently on his campaign website, and some media outlets have reported he served as an Army Ranger. Rougeot says that's not accurate, and told us he would get it corrected.
- A spokesperson for the U.S. Army Ranger Association tells us the language on Rougeot's campaign website is fair, though some former local Rangers have expressed concerns about his association with their unit.
Of note: Rougeot received glowing reviews for his service in Afghanistan from the battalion's major, who called him "an extremely capable intelligence officer able to perform at levels above his grade" and noted his leadership ability and "unlimited potential," his records show.
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