Cyber-security expert Mark Baisley, a former vice chair of the state GOP, announced Thursday he’s in the running for Colorado Republican chair, joining three other candidates and potentially throwing the election up for grabs just more than three weeks before the vote.
Baisley said in a Facebook post that he had recently been recruited — or drafted, depending on perspective — to run by a group of “patriot leaders” who eventually told him they wouldn’t take no for an answer and intended to nominate him for state chair from the floor at the GOP reorganization on April 1.
Noting that his preferred candidate — Adams County Republican Party Chairman Anil Mathai — had recently opted against running for state chair, Baisley said he struggled over the possibility with much “counsel and prayer,” eventually deciding to seek the top party post. “Given what is at stake in reapportionment and redistricting, I have decided that I will accept that nomination,” he wrote.
Baisley, a former Douglas County Republican Party chair, ran for state chair in 2013, unsuccessfully challenging then-incumbent chair Ryan Call’s bid for a second term. Baisley was tapped later that year for state party vice chair after Don Ytterberg stepped down to run for Congress. He lost a bid for reelection as vice chair two years ago to Derrick Wilburn, who isn’t seeking a second term next month.
The state GOP elects officers to two-year terms at its central committee meeting on April 1 at Englewood High School.
State Republican Party Chairman Steve House, who ousted Call two years ago, said in late January that he wouldn’t seek a second term.
In addition to Baisley, state chair candidates include former congressional candidate George Athanasopoulos, former El Paso County chair Jeff Hays and Grand Junction activist Kevin McCarney, who chaired the Trump campaign in Mesa County. Colorado Springs political strategist Sherrie Gibson is the only announced candidate for vice chair, and state GOP secretary Brandi Meek is unopposed seeking a second term.
Hays and Athanasopoulos welcomed Baisley to the race Thursday afternoon. McCarney couldn’t be reached for comment.
“Mark is a good man and a good Republican who has contributed much to the cause,” Hays told The Colorado Statesman. “I’m sure we won’t agree on everything, but truth emerges from dialogue, whether between friends, adversaries, or, in this case, friendly adversaries. Welcome to the race, Mark!”
Athanasopoulos was more succinct: ““Hey, welcome to the race, the more the merrier!”
A Republican following the contest speculated that Baisley’s late declaration could scramble what had appeared to be a close match between Hays and Athanasopoulos, throwing vote counts into disarray as central committee members assess the redrawn field.
On paper, at least, Baisley checks a number of boxes supporters of the two leading candidates say are important, potentially drawing votes from both Hays and Athanasopoulos. Like Hays, Baisley has experience running a larger Republican county party, as well as fundraising chops; and like Athanasopoulos, Baisley has backing from the more conservative and tea party groups within the GOP, and he says he’ll do everything he can to preserve the caucus system and closed primaries.
“We are faced with a challenge of having folks outside of the party, which is a private organization, tell us how it operates, and that’s just plain wrong and I intend to fight that,” Baisley said, taking an approach similar to Athanasopoulos to Proposition 108. The statewide initiative, adopted by voters last fall, establishes open primaries — allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in both major parties’ primaries. Athanosopolous has vowed to challenge it in court, while Hays says he opposed it but doesn’t plan to go out on a limb without Democrats and risk turning off unaffiliated voters.
In addition, Baisley said, “Jeff is fine with having the caucus go away, and I’m not.” He added, “George is new to the Republican Party management scene — he’s never managed a county party, which Jeff has, and I have.”
Like all three of the other candidates, Baisley told The Statesman that he intended to take a salary as chairman, if elected, adding that he supports treating the chair’s job as a salaried position. “I think it deserves a salary, and it also broadens the field,” he said.
Noting that his term as vice chair and subsequent work chairing the state GOP bylaws committee has given him an up-close look at state party operations, Baisley told The Statesman, “I have a pretty good understanding of what that job is and, if asked, I know what I would do. I would have a goal, and the goal would be what the mission of the bylaws is, which is to elect Republicans to office and uphold the party platform.”
He told The Statesman that he hadn’t intended to run but was convinced by the group that told him they’d nominate him whether he agreed to run or not.
“I certainly have not been seeking that role,” he said. “I’m very happy to work in support of others, but, every now and then, everyone looks at you and says you need to do this, and once you believe it yourself, you need to step up and get it done.”