Colorado Republicans revved up about races for U.S. Senate, governor

The Colorado Statesman

BOULDER — Former state Sen. Mike Kopp muscled his way to the top of the ballot at the GOP State Assembly on Saturday in what will be a four-way Republican gubernatorial primary. Delegates also awarded a primary slot to Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who placed just behind Kopp in the vote, for a shot at running against incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. But three other Republicans vying for the June 24 primary fell short.

In the day’s other top-ticket race, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner avoided a primary and won the party’s nod to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall just six weeks after Gardner announced he was a candidate.

Republicans filled the Coors Event Center on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus for a daylong confab to nominate statewide candidates, and the decidedly liberal locale took its share of ribbing.

Former state Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, makes his case for the 2014 gubernatorial nomination in front of delegates on April 12 at the Republican State Assembly. Kopp, who was nominated by former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, won top line on the ballot, ahead of Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

“As you leave today, don’t forget to pick up your Free Tibet and Che Guevara bumper stickers,” said state GOP chairman Ryan Call, welcoming delegates. “That will help you pass incognito as you leave the People’s Republic of Boulder today.” He added, “I’m kidding. We really aren’t giving out any bumperstickers. Republicans don’t believe in giving away anything for free.”

U.S. Senate candidate state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, didn’t win enough delegate votes to make the June 24 primary.

Call also noted that he was a leader of the College Republicans when he was at CU and that former Boulder Mayor Bob Greenlee came within 2 points of beating Udall when the Eldorado Springs Democrat first ran for Congress.

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, addresses delegates at the assembly. He is the official Republican nominee against incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, Democrat.

Kopp, R-Littleton, and Gessler, who practiced election law in Denver before winning office, emerged from among five gubernatorial candidates who sought the nomination through the assembly.

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call welcomes delegates to the Republican State Assembly on April 12.

State Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, Adams County businessman Steve House and LaSalle rancher Roni Bell Sylvester all failed to clear the 30 percent delegate support required to make the ballot. Two other candidates — former U.S. Reps. Tom Tancredo and Bob Beauprez — have successfully petitioned onto the ballot and didn’t address the assembly, although Tancredo roamed the concourse and Beauprez was present as a delegate. (Tancredo learned two days earlier his petitions had passed muster, but Beauprez didn’t get the word until Wednesday, four days after the assembly.)

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong nominates former state Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, for governor on April 12 at the Republican State Assembly.

In a squeaker, Kopp won the support of 33.6 percent of delegates, just ahead of Gessler’s 33.11 percent support. Brophy got 18.89 percent, House had 12.81 percent and Sylvester trailed with 1.59 percent.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler cradles his 4-month-old son Eric on stage as supporters prepare to nominate him for governor on April 12 at the Republican State Assembly. Along with former state Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, Gessler won a spot on the June 24 primary ballot.

“In your lifetime, there are only going to be a handful of men and women you would willingly follow in war or peace, and Mike Kopp is that kind of man,” said former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, nominating Kopp. “He’s a leader, he’s a man of his word — a soldier, statesman, a brilliant legislator, a businessman, a great family man, a pastor, a man whose word you can always trust.”

A supporter of gubernatorial candidate Mike Kopp roams the grounds aboard a Segway outside the Coors Event Center as delegates gather for the Republican State Assembly on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus.

Kopp told delegates his life experience and leadership abilities — he served as an Army Ranger, Hotshot firefighter and pastor before running for the Legislature, where he was Senate minority leader — made him the best candidate to take on the Democrat incumbent.

District Attorney George Brauchler nominates state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, for governor at the Republican State Assembly. Brophy didn’t make the primary ballot.

“We face obstacles, big ones,” Kopp told delegates. “But you know what? There are always giants — there are always giants when you want to go to a better land.” He continued: “You want to know how to defeat a giant? It’s simple. You never, ever, ever, ever, ever quit.”

Rancher Roni Bell Sylvester accepts the nomination for governor on April 12 at the Republican State Assembly at the Coors Events Center.

The self-described “honey badger” — Gessler has embraced the nickname, coined by political opponents to describe his tenacity and viciousness — hammered Hickenlooper for many of the same positions the others bashed: staying the execution of convicted killer Nathan Dunlap and signing gun-control legislation, among other actions, but he also challenged his own party.

Gubernatorial candidate Steve House tells delegates it’s time for a businessman to run the state. House fell short of the delegate votes needed to make the June 24 primary ballot.

“I am tired of weak-kneed Republicans who believe every Democratic attack means disaster,” he said. “They roll over instead of standing up.”

State Sens. Vicki Marble and Kevin Lundberg, both Fort Collins Republicans, and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn enjoy the commotion on the floor at the Republican State Assembly at the Coors Events Center on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus.
Photos by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Gessler was the only gubernatorial hopeful to reference the disastrous campaign of 2010 Republican nominee Dan Maes, who barely cleared the 10 percent vote required to maintain the GOP as a legally authorized major party in the state. (Tancredo ran that year as a third-party candidate, winning 37 percent of the vote.) He also took a swipe at Beauprez, whose failed 2006 run for governor against Democrat Bill Ritter had set the bar for campaign mishaps before Maes came along.

“Two disastrous gubernatorial elections is enough, and we have lost every single competitive state Senate seat for a decade,” Gessler said. “That is failure. I’m here to win. I’ve won my statewide election, in a purple state. I beat a Democratic incumbent — not by a little, by a lot. We overcame Democratic attacks and Republican naysayers.”
Brophy, “that gun-toting, bicycle-riding, Prius-driving farmer,” asked delegates to consider whether his Colorado roots and homespun authenticity might be the key to unseating a popular governor.

“In a day and age when Congress has a 9-percent approval rating, where lawyers and lobbyists are scorned, I believe the people of Colorado will look with favor upon a farmer, a typical live-and-let-live Coloradan from a small town where life is simple and people are genuine,” he said.

House listed other states where non-politician, business types had won governorships and Sylvester, acknowledging she was a longshot, said it was time a governor understood the needs of rural Colorado.

With five candidates in the running, some had speculated that only one might win enough support to emerge from the assembly, or that three could nearly evenly split the vote and win primary slots. There was even the possibility that none of the candidates would clear 30 percent, requiring a second round of balloting. But in the end, it was Kopp and Gessler who signed their names to the primary nomination documents.

Gardner fends off opposition from Baumgardner and Janich

Gardner nearly cleared a crowded field when he gave up his reelection bid and announced on March 1 that he was in the U.S. Senate race, as former leading candidates Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, state Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, all soon dropped out. (Buck switched to run for Gardner’s House seat, where he faces a four-way primary.)

Gardner won 76.62 percent support, enough to keep state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Steamboat Springs, who had 23.8 percent, off the ballot. Perennial candidate Tom Janich won 2.58 percent of the vote.

“I will never vote to raise the debt ceiling one red cent,” Baumgardner said, adding that he wanted the federal government out of health care and education. “I’m always going to stand firm for the United States Constitution, especially our 2nd Amendment rights.”

“The only thing I can give you is my word,” Baumgardner said. “The only thing I can tell you is the truth. I don’t change — I’m the same today that I was seven years ago, I’m going to be the same tomorrow. I will not step away from personal issues because it may seem more viable to the voting public.” It was a knock at Gardner, who reversed his position on the personhood amendment weeks earlier, angering some in the anti-abortion movement.

“Our country is headed in the wrong direction and it has been for some time. Maybe it’s time we elected somebody with a hat and a pair of boots and a backbone to go to Washington, D.C., and stand up to both sides,” Baumgardner told delegates.

Training his fire on Udall and the Democratic majority in the Senate, Gardner said, “Colorado is the fulcrum of the balance of power. We and our neighbors across Colorado will decide the direction this country takes.” Then, repeating the refrain “Mark Udall was just along for the ride,” he criticized the incumbent for voting nearly all the time with fellow Democrats.

“Mark Udall outsourced his decision-making to the Democratic Party,” Gardner said. “Instead of deciding to cut his own path, he decided that Barack Obama’s political future was more important than our political future. And while Mark Udall ceded his leadership to party power, the four corners of our state suffered.”

Loosely describing his “Four Corners Plan,” Gardner contended, “We can solve our own problems. We can do it in the private sector, on our own, in real America. Sadly, there’s one group of people who don’t believe that anymore — they’re the government-entrenched political class. They run government for the government. They enrich government for the government. And they give power to government at the expense of We the People. America must have new leadership.”

Democrats nominated Hickenlooper and Udall without opposition for second terms at their state assembly the same day in Denver.

In other action at the GOP assembly, attorney general candidates Cynthia Coffman and state Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, both earned enough delegate support to make the primary ballot, although Waller barely passed the 30-percent threshold. In uncontested races, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and secretary of state candidate Wayne Williams, the El Paso County clerk and recorder, won the GOP nomination by acclamation.