COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., April 13, 2014 — Colorado grassroots activists chose who they wanted to run for election in November at congressional district and state-wide assemblies this weekend. In many cases, the issue won’t be resolved until after the June primary election. There is a plethora of candidates vying for the opportunity to run against Democrats and the activist base is looking for the most energetic and passionate leaders.
The governor’s race had the most crowded field. Former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp won the largest share of the vote with 33.6 percent of the almost 4,000 delegates. Secretary of State Scott Gessler took a close second with 33.1 percent. According to election rules, Kopp’s name will be placed first on the June primary ballot followed by Gessler.
Kopp gave a powerful speech, said by some observers to be his best to date. In it, he stressed the theme of Coloradans working together for the good of our state — a welcome change from politicians extolling their own virtues. He was also the only candidate to attack Gov. Hickenlooper on a range of his policies.
Gessler’s speech was also strong. These two seemed to most capture the approval of the audience, judging by the applause. Gessler started campaigning early, first for re-election as Secretary of State and then switching to governor. He has built a strong grassroots team.
Eliminated were Sen. Greg Brophy with 18%, healthcare industry executive Steve House and rancher Roni Bell Sylvester. House had been collecting signatures to petition on to the ballot but switched a couple of weeks ago, saying that he wanted to respect the caucus process. He made a slick, business-like presentation but garnered only 12 percent of the vote. Sylvester, who ran on issues of water and property rights, got 1 percent.
Kopp and Gessler won’t be alone on the primary ballot. Former failed gubernatorial candidates Tom Tancredo and Bob Beauprez have petitioned on to the ballot. Tancredo threw a monkey wrench into the 2010 election by switching parties to enter the race as the American Constitution Party candidate at the last minute. Beauprez ran in 2006, reportedly at the request of a small group of party insiders.
Kopp, Gessler and Beauprez are all known as gentlemen and it seems unlikely that they will tear into each other in the way that we saw in 2010. Tancredo is quixotic; it is impossible to predict what he will do. So far, at least, everyone is focused on defeating Hickenlooper.
In the senate race, Rep. Cory Gardner won handily with 73 percent of the vote. Three of his competitors got out of the race when he announced or shortly thereafter, leaving just Western slope Sen. Randy Baumgartner to oppose him at the assembly. Baumgartner gave a good speech that emphasized liberty, honesty and Western values; he garnered 23 percent.
The third highly contested race was for Attorney General to replace outgoing AG John Suthers. Chief Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman dominated the vote with 69 percent, but Colorado Springs Rep. Mark Waller managed to squeak by with 30.74 percent. Waller made a jab at Coffman in his acceptance speech that some saw as unfair, and one of Coffman’s nominators poked Waller as well. This primary could get contentious.
Coffman made an impassioned speech for liberty and states’ rights, vowing to stand up for Colorado like her boss Suthers did in joining the attorneys general lawsuit against the personal mandate in the Obamacare law. She described attending the meeting of state attorneys general at which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the state officials that they didn’t have to enforce laws they didn’t like. She pledged to enforce all constitutional laws.
There were some surprises in Friday’s congressional district assemblies.
In Congressional District 3, incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton was challenged by David Cox from Palisade. Cox is a Republican with a Ron Paul libertarian streak. Cox says he is “running to end the corruption of our federal government and return to State focused and controlled Constitutional government.” Tipton also had a primary challenge in 2010, when he ultimately defeated Democrat John Salazar. At the assembly Tipton got 66 percent to Cox’s 34 percent.
In Congressional District 4, Sen. Scott Renfroe bested Weld County Attorney Ken Buck 54-46 in the race to fill the seat emptied by Rep. Cory Gardner. They will be joined on the ballot by Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer and Steve Laffey, former Cranston, R.I., mayor, who have petitioned on.
In Congressional District 5, Doug Lamborn was again challenged by retired Air Force general Bentley Rayburn. Rayburn, an implacable critic of Lamborn’s performance on defense issues, was nominated from the floor and took 37 percent of the vote.
Lamborn was first elected in 2006. He defeated Rayburn and four other challengers in the GOP primary. Two years later, Lamborn again defeated Rayburn and another challenger. In 2012 he was challenged by Robert Blaha, who was defeated at the district assembly.
Attendance at the district assembly was light because Lamborn was not being challenged. Lamborn supporters suspect a “surprise attack” by Rayburn, who they think was lining up supporters for weeks. Regardless, Rayburn came out swinging and is on the primary ballot.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, in a district gerrymandered by Democrats in 2012 to make it more favorable to them, is the only incumbent Republican congressman not facing a primary challenge.
Although the use of petitions to gain access to the primary ballot is a feature of Colorado law, it is widely viewed with disdain among party activists who view it as an end-run around the voice of the people. Yet it is also a way to gain access to the ballot in a crowded field that both grassroots and establishment-backed candidates are using this year.
The primary election is June 24, just ten weeks away. It promises to be a very busy time indeed.