GOP candidates nominated

Assembly delegates give nod to congressional candidates
The Colorado Statesman

Republicans at congressional district assemblies set up one surprise primary, kept two potential primary challengers off the ballot, and sent a whole lot of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum delegates to attend the Republican National Convention during a series of meetings last Thursday and Friday.

Republicans from Jefferson and Adams counties gave an enthusiastic nod to Golden industrialist Joe Coors to run against three-term U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Golden Democrat, at the 7th CD assembly on Thursday night at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

Bill Seitz and Mario Nicolais talk boots in front of a table promoting a slate of RNC delegate candidates — including Nicolais and Seitz’ wife, Shirley — at the Republican 7th CD assembly on April 14 at the Jeffco Fairgrounds. Nicolais said the boots on display included a historic pair he wore out walking for the Rudy Giuliani campaign, along with pairs assembled from the closets of supporters and a few from thrift stores.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The next day, at a series of assemblies held through the afternoon at the Colorado Convention Center, incumbent U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman also won the GOP nomination to run for another term in their districts by acclamation.

RNC delegate candidate Shirley Seitz dons a hat to distinguish herself from the more than 100 delegate hopefuls at the 7th Congressional District assembly on April 12 at the Jeffco Fairgrounds, though she didn\'t win a trip to Tampa.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

But when 1st CD Republicans convened, delegates threw nothing but curve balls, nominating a last-minute, largely unknown candidate to run in a primary against former Denver GOP chairman and past legislative candidate Danny Stroud and sending not a single Mitt Romney delegate to the RNC.

State Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, and legislative candidate Rick Enstrom catch up at the GOP 7th CD assembly on April 12 at the Jeffco Fairgrounds.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

While Republicans elected a handful of Romney delegates at the other CD gatherings, a self-described “Conservative Unity Slate” of Paul and Santorum supporters swept up the lion’s share of the 21 delegates at stake — three from each of the state’s seven congressional districts, augmented by a dozen at-large delegates picked the next day at the state convention — in a maneuver that surprised supporters of the presumptive nominee. (Romney backers bounced back the next day at the state convention, electing eight of the 12 RNC delegates named there.)

Congressional candidate Joe Coors and his brother, former Senate candidate Pete Coors, talk politics at the Republican 7th CD assembly on April 12 at the Jeffco Fairgrounds. Delegates to the assembly nominated Coors to challenge U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Golden Democrat.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

At the same time, in meetings down the hall, three-term U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, and state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, both beat back potential primary challengers at the 5th and 2nd CD assemblies, respectively, although both are still facing challenges from well-heeled candidates who opted to petition their way onto the ballot.

Republican legislative candidate Amy Attwood and state Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, who is running for the state Senate, pause for a moment in the doorway at the 7th Congressional District assembly on April 12 at the Jeffco Fairgrounds.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Oh, goodness. Who woulda thunk it?” said a smiling Coors, surveying the crowd of CD 7 Republicans minutes before they made his nomination official. “I certainly never, in my career, imagined a life of politics.”

Coors reiterated a campaign theme he has sounded since announcing his run at the end of January.

Republican CU Board of Regents candidate for the 7th Congressional District Mary Dambman prepares to take the stage to accept the nomination at the district’s GOP assembly on April 12.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I am running for Congress because the wasteful and deficit federal spending that is going on is bankrupting our country, putting us on the precipice of bankruptcy, and hurting our future, and that has to stop,” he said after noting that he and his wife, Gail, would be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in two days.

Former state Rep. Shirleen Tucker, R-Lakewood, and her husband, Scott, drove in from the mountains to catch up with old friends at the GOP 7th CD assembly.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

He continued: “We know this is a really important race. If we get caught up on the things that divide us on certain things, we just can’t let those things divide us. I’m going to challenge you to unite and focus on keeping our eyes on the big prize. That big prize is getting tax-and-spend Democrats like Ed Perlmutter out of office this year.”

State Rep. Libby Szabo sang the candidate’s praises in her nominating speech.

“Joe is running to make sure that your children and their grandchildren have an opportunity at America, the America we all love,” she said. “It’s gonna be a tough fight, guys. The Democrats are going to pull out all the stops, because they know Joe is a guy who can get the job done.”

Later that evening, Coors learned that his brother Pete, who ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat six years ago, was the lone Romney delegate elected at the 7th CD assembly.

In a twist on a campaign commercial his congressional candidate brother has been airing, the RNC delegate hopeful began his brief speech, “Fellow Republicans, I’m Pete Coors. I’m the beer, not the candidate. Our country is in a horrible mess.”

A Santorum backer who didn’t win a delegate slot, physicist John Miller, told the crowd why he was staying in the race even though his favored candidate wasn’t still in the running.

“My candidate has just announced he has suspended his campaign, but there are other issues to be addressed,” he said. “If you’re a social conservative and tired of being told your issues shouldn’t be on the platform, being told to sit down and shut up, I’m your guy, because I don’t do ‘sit down and shut up.’”

After nearly all the 101 announced RNC hopefuls had trooped before the crowd — each got 15 seconds to state a case — 7th CD Republicans tapped Santorum supporter Anil Mathai and uncommitted delegate Jeremy Strand, in addition to Coors. Szabo, also uncommitted, won one of the three alternate slots, with the remainder going to another unpledged delegate and a Paul supporter.

By the time 1st CD Republicans voted the next afternoon, however, a coalition of Paul and Santorum supporters were able to shut out every pledged Romney backer.

It wasn’t entirely a vote against Romney, said the top vote-getter, Tea Party Brewing owner Nancy McKiernan, a pledged Santorum delegate. “I will work tirelessly to get anybody but Obama in office,” she told the assembly.

But RNC delegate Florence Sebern, a supporter of Paul who was officially unpledged at the assembly, said she wanted to send a message to the GOP establishment.

“Ron Paul is not about the man, Ron Paul is about the principle,” she told The Colorado Statesman shortly after learning she had won a ticket to Tampa. “I am most concerned about clear processes and clear communication, because all comers should be welcome. The process should be clear, the playing field should be level. Then you give it a go, and the best man wins.” She added, “That’s what this movement is about. It’s a push-back in principle.”

The assembly pushed back in fact against Stroud, who had anticipated winning the nod to run against U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in the predominantly Democratic district but instead found himself with a primary challenger when Paul supporters nominated political neophyte Richard Murphy as a write-in candidate. Murphy, who had earlier flirted with a run for the 7th CD, secured a spot on the ballot with 64 votes, or 44 percent, behind top-line candidate Stroud, whose 81 votes accounted for 56 percent.

Stroud said he planned to take the unexpected primary in stride.

“Double-down. Nitrous oxide in the tank,” he said with a grin. “The issues are the same — we’ve got a federal government and a Congress that are broken. Our goal has to be focused on getting Obama out of office and fixing our Congress.”

Murphy was unavailable for comment immediately after the vote.

After winning a unanimous nomination to run in the redrawn 6th CD, Coffman sounded the alarm across the hall in a brief address to 1st CD Republicans.

Noting that he has called previous elections absolutely critical, he said, “This time, I really mean it. This is the most important election of our lifetime. America is at a tipping point, and this election will determine whether we will go down a road of freedom and individual liberties, or whether we go down a road of big government and oppression that this president and his Democrat allies want to take us down.”

His fellow member of Congress Lamborn, meanwhile, sidestepped one possible primary challenger and expressed confidence he can make it past another.

Lamborn handily dispensed a bid by insurance agent Doug Bergeron, defeating him 532 to 84 in the delegate vote. He’ll still face a primary, however, after feisty challenger Robert Blaha made the ballot last week when state officials approved his petitions.

Blaha, running an aggressive campaign that has already flooded the airwaves in the heavily conservative district, vowed to “step on the gas pedal” now that the primary ballot has been set. He suggested that 5th District television viewers and radio listeners will hear even more of his commercials claiming Lamborn is an ineffective voice for conservative principles.

Blaha also released a poll last week — commissioned by his campaign and conducted by Colorado-based Magellan Strategies — that purports to show the challenger closing the gap against Lamborn. Since early February, the poll shows, Blaha has nearly erased a 31-point deficit and now trails the incumbent by just 5 points.

“We know what to expect in this primary race,” said Blaha in a statement after the assembly. “We have taken a good look at Congressman Lamborn’s ’06 and ’08 primary races. His challengers were slapped with half-truths, unsubstantiated claims, and negative innuendo. We expect more of the same in this race.”

Soon after learning the primary would be a two-man race, a relaxed Lamborn told The Statesman he’s looking forward to a vigorous primary, his third in four runs for the seat.

“I’m going to make the case to the conservative voters in the Republican primary in the 5th Congressional District that a proven conservative with a record is better than someone who has no record,” he said. “You cannot do any better than someone with a proven record, but you can sure do a lot worse.”

Other prominent Republicans picked as RNC delegates out of congressional districts include Attorney General John Suthers, a Romney backer, and pledged Santorum supporters state Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, and Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, who was one of the masterminds of the Paul-Santorum coalition’s victories. State Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, and political operative Guy Short won unpledged delegate slots. In addition to the 21 RNC delegates, the GOP congressional district conventions elected an equal number of alternates.

Delegates to the 2nd CD assembly cleared the way for Lundberg to run against two-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, but the conservative firebrand could still face a primary, depending on an imminent court ruling.

Delegates gave the nomination to Lundberg with 368 votes, or 80 percent, denying a spot on the primary ballot to Adams County Republican Tom Janich, who got 64 votes. Another 23 ballots were cast for write-in candidates.

But a potential primary challenge from Boulder investor Eric Weissmann, who bypassed the assembly process to instead petition onto the ballot, remains up in the air before Lundberg can claim the field to himself.

Weissmann was scheduled to appear in Denver District Court after press time in a bid to force the secretary of state to count hundreds of signatures that were ruled invalid last week because of what Weissmann says amount to clerical errors on some of his petition’s pages. Although he submitted 1,456 signatures by the deadline, state election officials through out 614, leaving the Boulder businessman shy of the 1,000 valid signatures required to make the primary ballot.

In a twist, the Colorado Democratic Party filed a motion to intervene in the hearing and intends to argue against allowing Weissmann onto the ballot. Party spokesman Matt Inzeo said this week that Democrats want to get involved “to protect the party’s rights and interests,” though Weissmann’s lawyers intend to argue against letting the opposition weigh in. (Two years ago, a different set of Democratic lawyers argued the other side of a similar question and persuaded a Denver District Court judge to allow a state legislative candidate onto the primary ballot, ruling that good-faith errors shouldn’t be enough to keep a candidate from voters.)

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com