State Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, won top line on the June primary ballot over incumbent state Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, at the Senate District 8 Republican assembly on Friday.
Baumgardner, a rancher and two-term House member, got 119 delegate votes, nearly twice as many as White, a former teacher and tourism-business owner, who received 60. Both candidates cleared the required 30-percent threshold, though White did so by just six votes.
“When I came in today, I didn’t know how this was going to go,” Baumgardner told delegates after results were announced at the Colorado Convention Center, where the GOP convened numerous multi-county legislative assemblies. “I am almost speechless. ‘Almost,’ I said.”
Noting that the district favors Republicans by a wide margin, the plain-spoken conservative continued, “We are all Republicans, let’s work towards that Republican end.”
After thanking delegates for securing her place on the ballot, White promised a vigorous contest.
“I just want everybody to know that the race begins today,” she said. “I’m in for the long haul here and I think it will be a spirited race, and I know the best Republican will win, and I can do it.”
Baumgardner’s backers portrayed the mustachioed legislator as the authentic conservative in the race, while White’s supporters touted her conservative credentials and painted her as an effective representative who doesn’t bow to pressure from outside the district.
“Warning: Only one Republican candidate for Senate District 8 is pro-gun!” blared a colorful flier produced by the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Political Action Committee placed on every seat in the theater where delegates gathered.
The piece proclaimed that the PAC had endorsed Baumgardner and toasted his positions on several positions regarding firearms. It also blasted White for refusing to answer a questionnaire sent by the group: “Refuses to answer RMGO candidate survey which often is a sign that she’s anti-gun.”
Addressing delegates, White dismissed the attack.
“We all know what happens when Front Range special interests, be they organizations or individuals, attempt to influence our vote and our voice — some in those nasty fliers and mailers you have received,” she said.
“I am strongly pro-Second Amendment rights,” she continued. “This flier that greeted you today — I have had my concealed carry permit for 15 years. I learned to shoot on the ranch when I was 8 years old. And so, if you have any extras of these, could you just give them to me so I could use them for target practice.”
Describing herself as “pro-life and anti-union,” White laid into her opponent and his supporters.
“There is a difference, a clear difference,” she said. “I will tell you, I will always stand up for Northwest Colorado, not Front Range leadership and special interest groups who are notorious for angry misrepresentation of the truth. Front Range leadership and special interests that seem to be able to dictate their demands to my opponent, even when it’s bad for Northwest Colorado.”
For his part, Baumgardner spoke more generally about the beliefs he said he shares with Republican delegates.
“I believe that my values and moral compass will nearly always align with yours,” he said, adding, “I’ll respect all those I deal with in my personal life, business and political life. None of us is more important or less than any others. Our views are no less valuable.”
He also asked delegates to remember his wife, Lori, in their prayers, since she couldn’t attend the assembly after having both knees replaced recently.
The gun-rights group wasn’t the only one with an interest in the assembly’s outcome.
Marty Neilson, president of the right-leaning Colorado Union of Taxpayers, who watched the assembly from a seat in the back, said she attended because she wanted “to see the differences highlighted” between the two Republicans.
“CUT can’t support a candidate, we can only distinguish between the two, and Rep. Baumgardner has a better CUT rating than Sen. White, so that’s why I’m here observing,” Neilson said.
Baumgardner scored 65.38 out of 100 on the most recent CUT rankings, landing him in the top third of Republican House members, and White scored 36.64, the lowest of any Republican state senator. The organization examined legislators’ votes on 27 bills in last year’s session to come up with the ratings.
Summit County Sheriff John Minor called Baumgardner “a humble man of character” in brief remarks nominating the candidate. “Next to the phrase ‘good, honest, hard-working, Second Amendment-loving, God-fearing, conservative Republican,’ just put a picture of Randy,” he said.
Nominating White, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert told delegates that she would stand her ground.
“Even when the special interests down in Denver get her to try to toe their line, she will not. She will fight for us, she will fight for the mountains, she will fight for our district,” he said.
Baumgardner jumped in the race at the beginning of the year after he was drawn out of his current House district into one dominated by more Democratic-leaning Boulder County. In the newly drawn SD 8 — encompassing Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit counties — Republicans hold an advantage of roughly 10,000 active voters over Democrats, who also lag unaffiliated voters in the mostly rural district.
White won appointment to the seat after the 2010 elections when her husband, Al, relinquished it to take a job as the state’s top tourism official under Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The winner of the June 26 primary will face Democrat Emily Tracy, who ran for the legislature twice early in the last decade.