DENVER -- With less than three weeks left in Colorado's four-way GOP gubernatorial primary contest, the outside money is starting to flow -- from Republicans and Democrats.
A newly-formed group called "Protect Colorado Values" is about to hit the airwaves with two different ads focused on the two Republican front-runners, Tom Tancredo and Bob Beauprez.
Both appear to be attack ads, but a single viewing of the two spots makes it clear what the group, a partnership between the independent expenditure committee of the Democratic Governors Association and other Colorado-based progressive donor organizations, is trying to do.
Simply put, the one-two punch is a thinly-veiled effort to help Tom Tancredo win the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
The 30-second spot focused on Beauprez, titled "Both Ways", hits the former congressman for voting for "earmarks and spending bills while the national debt ballooned" and for supporting "the individual mandate that's the cornerstone of Obamacare", two lines of attack that are likely to turn off conservative primary voters.
The 30-second spot focused on Tancredo labels him "one of the country's strongest opponents of Obamacare", notes he called the Affordable Care Act "a scam" and concludes with this: "Tom Tancredo: He's just too conservative for Colorado."
That's likely to be catnip for conservatives.
"It's a good period of time while there's some attention on this race to try and reinforce some negatives," a Democratic operative close to the group told FOX31 Denver.
Make no mistake: the Beauprez ad is designed to hurt the GOP establishment's choice with more conservative primary voters while the Tancredo spot, ostensibly an attack ad, is likely to solidify his support with conservatives who widely disdain Obamacare.
While observers generally believe Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is a heavy favorite to win a second term no matter which candidate emerges from the June 24 GOP primary, Democrats believe Tancredo would be the easiest to defeat and that his candidacy, allowing them to pick through years of controversial statements and votes, could impact the rest of the GOP ticket, possibly dragging down U.S. Senate hopeful Cory Gardner, the Republican congressman challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in a race that could determine control of the Senate.
A similar situation played out in 2010, when Democrats spent $500,000 near the end of a Republican primary to help finish off the scandal-tarnished Scott McInnis.
Republicans, left with Dan Maes as the party's gubernatorial nominee, struggled to regroup and split further when Tancredo, running on a third party line, entered the race but failed to convince Maes to drop out.
Ultimately, Democrats won not just the governor's race but a highly unlikely, narrow victory in a blockbuster U.S. Senate race.
Over the next three weeks as the Republican primary plays out, it's possible more voters will see these ads paid for by Democrats than those being run by Republicans.
Tancredo, Beauprez and Secretary of State Scott Gessler all have their own ads running on cable statewide.
The two spots from "Protect Colorado Values" are backed by a "substantial" six-figure buy and will run statewide for three weeks starting Thursday on local and cable airwaves.
With Beauprez getting some help from a newly-formed 527 group, "Republicans Who Want to Win", it's increasingly likely that big outside money, not the paltry sums raised by the candidates themselves, will determine the outcome of the GOP's nominating contest.
During his press conference Thursday afternoon, Beauprez said he didn't have a problem with the Republican's 527 group, just a Democratic 527 trying to influence a Republican primary; and he called on Hickenlooper to renounce the ads.
"Hickenlooper and his allies have resorted to dishonest, negative attacks and underhanded tactics intended to do one thing: take away the right of honest Republicans to choose their own nominee for governor," Beauprez said.