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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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From MAGA to moderate, Colorado Republicans search for right mix to best Dems in November

With Representative Lauren Boebert running in a new district, the state GOP chair in hot water and Democrats in control of much of the state, the Colorado GOP has a lot at stake in the June 25 primary.

DENVER (CN) — In 2018, firebrand Lauren Boebert rode MAGA momentum from small town restaurateur to representative of Colorado’s largest congressional district. Boebert’s rise also marked the state party’s decline.

Since Donald Trump was elected president, Colorado Republicans have struggled to select candidates who can win in increasingly competitive districts as the purple state tinted blue and Democrats swept through the statehouse, the executive branch and both seats in the U.S. Senate.

“There's the America First MAGA Republicans and then there's the older moderates who are libertarian on social issues, but conservative on economic issues,” explained Kenneth Bickers, a political science professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

As the June 25 state primary draws near, Republican candidates are vying for votes on the promise that they are the ones who can beat Democrats in November.

Boebert's former district up for grabs

Take the 3rd Congressional District, which Boebert narrowly defended in 2022, spanning large swaths of rural Colorado on the western border with Utah and south along New Mexico.

“That district leans Republican, but Adam Frisch came really close the last time against Boebert and has raised buckets of money. He's got a lot of name recognition. He is now an experienced campaigner,” Bickers said.

Frisch, a former Aspen City councilman, went on what he called the Beat Boebert BBQ Tour in 2022, traveling thousands of miles to court independent and disenfranchised Republicans to his campaign against the brassy incumbent. Frisch lost to Boebert by about 500 votes, indicating not just that she was vulnerable but that the district could be flipped.

While Frisch has more than $12 million in the bank and is uncontested in the Democratic primary, he will not be running against Boebert, who has moved to another Republican stronghold across the state. Instead, he will face one of six men running to fill Boebert’s shoes.

A poll from analytics company co/efficient puts Grand Junction attorney Jeff Hurd in the lead, with former state Representative Ron Hanks trailing by 18 points. Although Hanks has raised less than $10,000, he received endorsements from both Trump and the state party. Hanks has maintained a small but loyal base by keeping alive unfounded claims of 2020 election tampering and for his presence in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.

Mesas from the Rocky Mountain's Western Slope tower over western Colorado near Grand Junction. (Amanda Pampuro/Courthouse News)

A previous clerk for U.S. Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich, Hurd is making his first foray into politics, but he leads fundraising and endorsements with almost $1 million in the bank and backing from Colorado’s last Republican governor, Bill Owens.

Financial advisor and political newcomer Russ Andrews is reaching for Hurd’s coattails with the second-highest amount of money raised, $367,369. Andrews told Courthouse News he was inspired to run after Kevin McCarthy was ousted as speaker from the U.S. House of Representatives last year.

“I felt that we weren't really being represented. I also felt that in my district, our tax dollars weren't finding their way back home,” Andrews said. He is one of many Republicans who has clashed with state party chair Dave Williams.

Culture warriors vs. conservatives

Under Williams’ controversial leadership, the state party broke a tradition of primary neutrality to endorse candidates before voters had a say, and changed party rules to try to close the primary to unaffiliated voters. When a vote among members didn't pass, Williams brought the issue to court and lost.

In another unprecedented move, Williams declined to resign from his party post as he pursues office in the state’s 5th Congressional District.

A recent email characterizing Pride month as a celebration of “godless groomers” proved to be the straw that broke the elephant’s back, prompting efforts to recall Williams.

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Asked for comment, Williams sent a statement from party vice-chairman Hope Scheppelman defending the party’s no apologies opposition to celebrating June as Pride month.

Andrews said the focus should be elsewhere.

“My issue with the state Republican Party is that they are all about winning cultural war skirmishes and they couldn't care less seemingly about winning elections," Andrews said. "We need to expand the party base.”

Republican consultant Dick Wadhams added election fraud and Jan. 6 pardons to the list of issues sure to sink a Republican in Colorado’s general election.

“They seem to want to find the most unelectable, most extreme candidates they can endorse,” said Wadhams, a former Republican state chairman. “Dave Williams has decided that he is the ultimate arbiter of what a real Republican is and that anybody who disagrees with him is a RINO,” using the acronym for "Republican in name only."

Party members across the state will decide whether to follow party-endorsed culture warriors or break away to back traditional fiscal conservatives.

Yard signs show support for U.S. Senate candidate Ron Hanks. (Amanda Pampuro/Courthouse News)

Challenging Boebert,

Citing the desire for a fresh start following a divorce, Boebert recently moved east and is running to represent Colorado’s 4th District for a seat recently vacated by retiring Republican incumbent Ken Buck. Spanning the state’s eastern border with Kansas, as well as portions of the border with Wyoming and Oklahoma, the district is home to 748,000 people.

A poll published by Kaplan Strategies earlier this month placed Boebert in the lead with support from 40% of voters and the rest split among five other candidates.

With support from 5% of people polled, Peter Yu came a distant second to Boebert. With a banking and mortgage background, Yu has put long hours into a shoe-leather campaign, investing $250,000 of his own money and personally gathering more than 1,000 of the signatures needed to petition onto the ballot.

“It took me the full two months to make sure that I accumulated enough signatures to access the ballot and that's something I'm very proud of, because it was the people of this district who put me on the ballot,” he told Courthouse News.

Yu, who grew up in Loveland and now calls Windsor home, spends eight hours each day knocking on doors and speaking with constituents outside grocery stores, hoping to reach the plurality of unaffiliated voters who usually sit the primary out.

“Even though immigration is definitely front and center, people are trying to figure out how to have a better life with cost of living on the rise,” Yu said. “Even if we did balance the budget tomorrow, it's not going to have an immediate effect.”

Still, there is a wild card at play in the 4th District as two elections for the same seat will happen on the same day. When Buck retired and declined to carry out the duration of his term, he triggered a special election scheduled for primary day.

Boebert has expressed concern that the state party intentionally engaged in this election gamesmanship to confuse voters.

Democrat Trisha Calvarese and Republican Greg Lopez, as well as Libertarian candidate Hannah Goodman and the Approval Voting Party’s Frank Atwood, are running in the special election to finish Buck’s term.

In the formal Democratic primary, Calvarese is running against John Padora Jr. and Ike McCorkle, who leads in fundraising and won the primary in 2022.

Whoever wins, the Democratic candidate is expected to struggle against the Republican come November.

“There's always weird stuff that can happen, but this is as predictable as it can be,” said Bickers, the political science professor. “The 4th is probably the most Republican district in the state.”

Storage tanks used in the oil extraction process by Extraction Oil and Gas line a road in Weld County, Colorado. (Amanda Pampuro/Courthouse News)

Suburbs meet oil country in the 8th District

Colorado’s most uncertain district is its newest: the 8th Congressional District, which encompasses the liberal suburbs of Westminster and Brighton along with conservative oil country through Weld and Larimer counties.

Democrat Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician, won the district in 2022 by less than 1% of the vote over moderate Republican Barbara Kirkmeyer. At the same time, 9,280 people voted Libertarian — a significant enough number to have changed the outcome either way.

With the Libertarian Party attracting an influential number of general election voters, candidate Eric Joss offered to drop out if the Republican nominee signed a party pledge. Retired doctor Janak Joshi, who previously represented Colorado Springs in the statehouse, signed the pledge and holds the state party endorsement.

Trump meanwhile endorsed Gabe Evans, an army veteran and former police officer, who told Courthouse News he could not join the pact due to its goal of dismantling intelligence agencies.

“Why would we want to go and abolish our intelligence agencies in an increasingly dangerous, global environment?” said Evans, who enlisted after 9/11.

Evans currently represents Weld County in the statehouse and in his spare time runs the Liberty Firearms Institute, a gun range in Johnstown. Evans feels the state legislature is too stacked with Democrats to gain momentum and hopes to accomplish more in Congress.

“In Colorado, we've had Democrat trifecta control for the last six years and we've seen how that's taken us in a not good direction,” Evans said, citing reports from the Common Sense Institute and the FBI ranking Colorado’s crime rates among the highest in the nation.

Evans homeschooled his two sons, attends church on Sundays and considers himself a staunch conservative but pledged to work across the aisle.

“When I was a cop and people would call me up, my first question wasn’t ‘Are you a Republican or a Democrat?’" Evans recalled. "It was, ‘What’s the problem? How do we work together to fix it?’”

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