Colorado GOP confident about ‘14 prospects

The Colorado Statesman

Colorado Republicans are confident that this is the year voters will reverse the GOP’s decade-long slump in the state and throw the Democrats out. With Democratic control of the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat and both legislative chambers at stake this year, state Republicans believe they are putting in place an organization primed to take advantage of a restless electorate ready to reject a liberal agenda Republican leaders repeatedly termed too extreme for the swing state.

“I will tell you, 2014 is a year full of opportunity for us,” Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call told a group of GOP donors at a fundraising luncheon — billed as a legislative update — on Wednesday in Denver. He pointed to a poll released that morning showing middling support for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, based on the incumbent’s “lack of leadership and the permissive, liberal agenda [he] has pursued,” Call claimed, proceeding to tick off strides the party has made since Democrats dominated the 2012 election.

“Your state Republican Party is in a stronger position than it has been in many years,” Call said at the monthly Capitol Club luncheon at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant. Not only has the GOP been raising plenty of funds — more than $100,000 last month alone, Call said — but it’s spending the money up front.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, Senate Minority Whip Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, and House Assistant Minority Leader Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, pose for a portrait following the state Republican Party’s monthly Capitol Club luncheon.

“Unlike in years past, when we’ve sort of sat on our hands and waited to dial up that campaign effort for the final couple months, we are hard at work already,” he said. The state GOP has opened a full-time, regional field office in Aurora and counts a dozen paid staffers, compared with the usual three or four at this point in previous election years. “We’re excited that the devotion of resources early on is going to help us lay the groundwork for success in 2014 and beyond,” he predicted.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jason Clarke talks with Andy Bishop at the state GOP’s Capitol Club luncheon on Feb. 5 in Denver.

Referencing the Broncos’ disastrous Super Bowl appearance days earlier, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, told donors that, even as he couldn’t look away from the debacle, he was encouraged by the underlying lesson.

Senate District 5 candidate Don Suppes, former House District 1 candidate John Kidd, Arapahoe County GOP chair Joy Hoffman and former House District 3 candidate Brian Watson enjoy the state GOP’s Capitol Club luncheon on Feb. 5 at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant in Denver.

“On any given day in the NFL, any team can win,” Cadman said, repeating a maxim. “That’s what we saw in Colorado in our Senate races last year. We fielded a great team last year. We’ve never seen anything like the effort that was put on. We just ran into a team that had a whole lot more assets, resources and experience. But they don’t have that anymore. They don’t have all that money. We are catching up.”

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call and state GOP coalitions director Nicole Frazier survey the crowd at the state party’s Capitol Club fundraising luncheon on Feb. 5 in Denver.

Following the unprecedented recall of two Democratic senators last summer — narrowing the Democrats’ majority to a slim 18-17 edge in the chamber — Cadman said that Republicans are ready to capitalize on the changing sentiments of the electorate, which he characterized as weary of Democratic over-reach on topics ranging from gun control to rural energy standards and same-day voter-registration.

Deanette NewVille and Barb Piper visit before lunch is served at a fundraiser for state Republicans on Feb. 5 at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant in Denver.

“This is the narrative we are going to seize upon going forward: This was about people being ignored by the people they elected,” Cadman said, noting that recalled state Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, was ousted by voters in a district where Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans and where President Barack Obama won by some 20 points the previous year.

Senate District 5 candidate Don Suppes and Richard Elsner, chairman of the Park County Republican Party, talk at the state GOP’s Capitol Club luncheon in Denver.
Photos by Ernest LuningThe Colorado Statesman

“With the right message, with the right candidate, with the right money, Republicans can win anywhere,” Cadman said, noting that nearly every voter who sided against the Giron recall also voted to install Republican George Rivera in her seat. (Democrats say that the district’s notoriously fractious Democrats, coupled with a late ruling that quashed mail ballots, sealed Giron’s fate in anomalous circumstances that won’t be replicated in a usual election.)

“The Democrats have said, ‘We want to be more user friendly, we want to put the past behind us,’” Cadman said with a smile, referring to legislation passed last year. “Of course, nobody wants to look back at a car wreck. We have a responsibility to remind people that what they did hasn’t gone away.”

Citing John F. Kennedy’s adage that “an error isn’t a mistake until you refuse to correct it,” Cadman said Republicans are giving majority Democrats the chance to fix what he termed their mistakes on a host of laws passed last year, but “So far they are not taking an opportunity to correct their mistakes, and we will offer constant reminders to the electorate about how they’ve been left behind.”

Enumerating several of her own bills this session, Assistant Minority Leader Libby Szabo, R-Arvada — a last-minute substitute for House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, whose wife had gone into labor that morning — said she was happy to put Democrats on record on numerous hot-button topics.

“We’re running good, common-sense bills that will bring out where you really are on some of these issues,” she said. “Where are Republicans and where are the Democrats.”

Among the bills Szabo fully expects the Democratic majority to reject — “We’ve just started, our bills have just started to die,” she said with a smile — is one that would to change last session’s same-day voter-registration law to require “proper forms of ID,” disallowing forms the law currently encourages, such as bank statements or utility bills.

“I would love to see someone walk into Walmart and try to buy some Sudafed and say, ‘I left my purse in the car, but I have my bank statement.’ I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t fly.”

Last year’s House Bill 1303 — an elections reform measure backed by a bipartisan group of county clerks but roundly rejected by legislative Republicans — came under repeated fire at the luncheon, including this crack from Cadman: “The Democrats and the unions are trying to make it easier to steal elections. They’re pretty good at winning them, now they want to steal them.” (The law’s supporters say fears are misplaced, and that the only attempts to subvert the law’s intentions during last year’s off-year election occurred when Republicans tried to demonstrate how easily it could be subverted.)

Szabo is also sponsoring a bill to “put parameters around the reprieve process in a capital case,” highlighting controversy over a Hickenlooper decision last year to postpone indefinitely the scheduled execution of death row inmate Nathan Dunlap.

Call wrapped up the luncheon by describing the care he hopes Republican voters take when designating candidates for the November ballot.

“As a party, more than anything, I think the lesson we have to learn from the recalls — from this entire sort of process — is that when you forget to listen to what the people have to say, that’s when you get in trouble,” Call said. “And that’s why, as a party, we pride ourselves on the notion we’re going to leave that decision with respect to who our candidates are up to the broadest level of participation we can, and that’s going to be our primaries.”

This year’s compressed schedule — precinct caucuses kick off the first week of March, followed by party assemblies in April and a June primary — “will give us an opportunity to really get the tires on these candidates,” Call said. Noting that some offices have numerous hopefuls vying for the nomination, he acknowledged that simply fielding any old Republican won’t be sufficient, even if voters are tired of Democratic rule.

“Candidates that match the optimism of our message is going to be our challenge, and not every candidate who puts their name forward necessarily can win the general [election], so we have to thoughtfully consider not only which candidates embody our principles, but which candidates can build an organization and which candidates can actually defeat the Democrats and enact the kind of policies that are in line with Republican principles,” Call said. “That’s always a challenging balance; there’s not ever an easy shortcut to the process.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com