COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., March 21, 2014 — While the senate race in Colorado has settled down, the field of Republicans challenging Gov. John Hickenlooper just got bigger with the entry of former Congressional representative Bob Beauprez into the already-crowded race. Seven are vying for the chance to unseat the unpopular governor.
Scott Gessler, the current Secretary of State, early on changed his goal from running for reelection to running for governor. He paints himself as a grassroots candidate — a sort of political outsider. Although the state party did not run any straw polls at the precinct caucuses, Gessler polled 31 percent in informal and unscientific polls in conservative Douglas and El Paso counties.
Beauprez, who had just announced right before the precinct caucuses, polled second at 23 percent. He ran an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 2006, wherein he was tagged with the moniker “Both Ways Bob” by his primary opponent. Democrats picked up on that in the general election in the same way that the Jane Norton campaign provided all the anti-Ken Buck fodder the Democrats needed in his 2010 senate race against Michael Bennett.
Beauprez’ late entry into the race could signal that the Republican Establishment was not happy with any of the then-current choices; time will tell who his supporters are as the campaign finance reports become due.
Two solidly conservative state legislators are also in the race: Grey Brophy from Wray on the eastern plains and Mike Kopp from Golden just west of Denver. Kopp, who had made a couple of visits to El Paso County, did better at 18 percent while Brophy polled 7 percent.
Businessman and healthcare industry lobbyist Steve House ran a distant 4 percent. He has been a political activist but this is his first time as a candidate.
Perennial candidate Tom Tancredo is also running for governor again. In 2010 he totally upset the race when he jumped from the Republican Party to the American Constitution Party to run as a third party candidate. In doing so he ensured Hickenlooper’s election in another bitterly divided race on the right.
Tancredo is a Republican again and he inexplicably polled 17 percent in the straw poll.
The final candidate is long-time conservative activist Roni Bell Sylvester. In the straw poll she received 1 vote from Douglas County.
The poll and the number of people in the race only points out that it is early in the race and people haven’t really made up their minds yet. One person, for example, voted for Beauprez by writing his name in for U.S. Senate.
Colorado has a unique combination of a caucus and primary system. The strength of the caucus system is that candidates are vetted by activists who really follow politics. There are precinct caucuses where delegates are elected, followed by county and state assemblies. The candidate or candidates who pass through this filter appear on the primary ballot in June. Candidates must meet a minimum threshold of 30 percent of delegate votes to make it.
The wrinkle in Colorado elections is the provision that candidates may also get on the ballot by petition. Using this method, candidates can bypass party activists by collecting enough signatures to be placed directly on the ballot. Jane Norton used this method in 2010 but it was relatively unusual for a candidate to do that. Among activists, that approach signals distrust of the grassroots.
That approach also favors the wealthy or well-financed. It is relatively easy to get the required number of signatures to assure your place on the ballot. The consequence, though, is that you will have to appeal directly to the audience of party voters at large without the support of party activists.
In the governor’s race Beauprez, Tancredo and House are all gathering petitions.
On the Democrat side, primaries aren’t an issue. The party decides who’s going to run. This avoids the messy primary process that the Republicans experienced in 2010. Big money from both inside and outside the state plays a big role and most registered Democrats seem content to vote for whoever the party tells them to. And this time they have two incumbents.
Still, the electorate in Colorado is almost evenly split into thirds between Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. After the ultra-radical legislative sessions in 2013 and 2014, the still sluggish economy, and the unpopularity of Hickenlooper, Udall and Obamacare, the state could be ready for a change.