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Buoyed by 2016 Senate bid that fell short, Darryl Glenn back in the running

October 1, 2017 Updated: October 2, 2017 at 7:51 am
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Darryl Glenn, El Paso County Commissioner, gives two thumbs as as early election results show him in the lead during the U.S. Senate Republican Primary in the Rocky Mountain Ballroom of The Broadmoor on Tuesday, June 28, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

Congressional candidate Darryl Glenn likes to tell a story about a woman he met at a farmers market this summer.

"She was an older black lady, independent," he says. "I stopped by and introduced myself, and she was like, 'You're a - Republican?'" He scowled like he was sniffing a carton of milk that had turned.

"'I've never seen a Republican,' she said. 'Why should I even listen to you?' And I was like, 'Ma'am, I just want to have a conversation with you.'"

Then he leans in, animated at the memory of their exchange. "And we literally spent 20 minutes talking about the issues - she was a small business owner - and some of the challenges that she was having. Here we are, where a Republican, traditionally, in her mind, would never come down and grace her with their presence. It was humbling that she was able to share that story with me, and that's what it's about. There's a real person that's at the end of that story. We left there at the end of the day, and she was like, 'Thank you. I'm going to follow your campaign.' That's what it's about."

At that, Glenn let loose a joyful laugh, magnifying his smile until it covered his face.

Glenn, an El Paso County commissioner and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, vaulted from dark-horse status to win the GOP nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet last year. He trimmed Bennet's consistent double-digit lead in polls, finishing 5.7-points behind the Democrat on Election Day, and he did it without the support of national Republicans.

This summer, Glenn announced he's challenging six-term U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in what's turning into a crowded primary for the heavily Republican 5th Congressional District seat. State Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican serving his second term, launched his campaign for the GOP nomination in April, and Colorado Springs City Councilman Tom Strand joined the field last month.

Last year's statewide campaign will bear little resemblance to Glenn's quest this time, a battle of El Paso County Republicans with the winner emerging as heavy favorite to win the general.

Gone is the tightly coiled, confrontational Glenn who opened nearly every Senate campaign appearance describing himself as "an unapologetic Christian, constitutional conservative, pro-life, Second Amendment-loving American who will beat Michael Bennet."

He's still all those things - although he didn't beat Bennet - but this time around, Glenn doesn't think he has to prove it.

At a recent interview with Colorado Politics, Glenn nodded when asked if he's mellowed since the Senate campaign last year. "If I were any mellower, I'd sink into this chair," he said, and then leaped to his feet.

It isn't just that Glenn is driven and resolute and unflinching - although he hasn't lost a whiff of those characteristics - but his familiar swagger carries with it something lighter, something that voters didn't often see during last year's race against Bennet. Relaxed and confident, Glenn seems happy.

"Mellower doesn't mean we don't have fire," he said. "It's trying to get people to understand that they have a voice. I'm going to go anywhere, anytime. I'm not going to duck from town hall meetings. I will go anywhere, anytime, so that we can have a conversation so that we can find out what are those things that are getting in your way and I can lay out a plan and a vision so we can get those solved."

Glenn's stunning ascent

Glenn's rise from campaign-trail obscurity to U.S. Senate nominee was as swift as it was improbable, although a veteran Republican consultant warned last summer that Glenn's unabashedly conservative candidacy could have planted the seeds for his general election defeat. And critics of Glenn's campaign would say he didn't exhibit the go "anywhere, anytime" determination in the general election as he did in the primary - when he says he logged at least 90,000 miles on state roads. He catapulted out of the Republican state assembly as the only candidate on the primary ballot, beating six other hopefuls.

Going in to the confab in Colorado Springs last April, he was a decided underdog, then he delivered what would come to be known as The Speech.

While the final results shocked nearly everyone - Glenn claims he wasn't surprised - after Glenn spent a dozen minutes bringing the crowd to its feet, cheering itself hoarse, nearly everyone in the World Arena knew they'd witnessed something rare. With almost 70 percent of delegate votes, Glenn alone won a spot in the primary - candidates need 30 percent to qualify - and kept everyone else off.

Eventually, four other Republicans managed to petition on to the June ballot.

Glenn was easily outspent - he was the only candidate who wasn't up on TV, though a conservative outside group aired some $500,000 worth of ads on his behalf - but a cavalcade of high-profile endorsements poured in as the primary neared: Sarah Palin, RedState blogger Erick Erickson, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and several of the chamber's most conservative senators, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mike Lee of Utah.

In the weeks after the primary win, veteran Republican Party operative Dick Wadhams cautioned Glenn against treating the general election electorate the same as primary voters.

"You look at the people who have won in Colorado over the years - Hank Brown, Wayne Allard, Bill Owens, Cory Gardner, Ben Campbell," said Wadhams, who chaired the state GOP for four years and managed the campaigns of Brown, Allard and Owens, three of the five Republicans who've been able to win gubernatorial and Senate elections in Colorado in the last three decades.

"There's a certain thread that runs through all those Republicans ... they were conservatives who could appeal to a very purple state. It's not new that Colorado is competitive. It's never been a Republican state," Wadhams said, adding, "He was able to win a big victory. But winning a primary, as we've seen over and over again in Republican politics, is different than winning a general election,"

Glenn made clear he intended to run an aggressively conservative fall campaign and had no plans to dial back any of the rhetoric that got him past the five-way primary. "What I've seen over the years is people what they call pivoting towards the center," he said at the time. "I think people who do that lose."

Faltering in the fall

Glenn's path to November would prove rocky. When national consultants arrived to take control of his campaign, he lost many of the hard-core volunteers who had stuck with him for more than a year. His campaign foundered when news of a decades-old assault charge surfaced and Glenn stopped speaking with The Denver Post after the newspaper ran several critical stories and an editorial. Glenn lost support from some prominent Republicans in early October after the "Access Hollywood" tape featuring GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump surfaced - when Glenn first called on the GOP presidential nominee "to do the honorable, selfless thing - voluntarily step aside and let Mike Pence be our party's nominee," and later said he would vote for Trump but not endorse him.

His campaign to unseat Bennet also struggled for attention in a year dominated by the presidential race, but Glenn said he took away a strong lesson.

What does he plan to do in his congressional race that he didn't do in his Senate run?

"We're going to win," he says without taking even a moment to ponder.

"I'm very proud of the campaign," Glenn said. "There are all these little things, but the overall thing I would change is the outcome."

He maintains he would have won "with four more weeks," despite battling "two opponents."

"We were not only battling Sen. Bennet, we were also battling the National Republican Senatorial Committee. When you look at the finance reports and see how much money they did not send to Colorado versus other places ... you can draw your own conclusion from that."

Before last summer, it appeared nearly certain that the NRSC would be playing heavily in Colorado, because Bennet was the only incumbent swing-state Democratic senator up for re-election last year. But the national support didn't materialize for Glenn.

The NRSC spent $133 million on Senate races in 13 states last cycle, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission, but Colorado wasn't among them.

'Get stuff done' caucus

Glenn said he's likely aligned with the conservative House Freedom Caucus - U.S. Rep. Ken Buck is a member, although Lamborn isn't - but anticipates working with other groups and potentially even forming his own, should he win a seat in Congress.

What might he call this group?

"The People Who Want to Get Stuff Done Caucus," he said, exploding in laughter.

Glenn, an attorney, was appointed to City Council in 2003 and then was elected and re-elected to the seat. He won his seat on the county commission in 2010 and won a second four-year term in 2014.

"That's the advantage of going from City Council, which is a nonpartisan race, to county commissioner, where you actually have to sit down and deal with a variety of issues," he said. "You're dealing with a dog-barking issue one day to a zoning issue. You have to be able to relate, and it doesn't matter sometimes what party you're in. It comes down to whether you're going to represent that individual."

He said he's confident he can take the same approach to Congress.

"I believe, especially when you are at the federal level, that doesn't mean you can't sit down with a group of local elected officials and community leaders and talk through some of the problems you're facing. Whether that's how you regulate the marijuana industry within your community - what are some of the consequences, what should we be doing?"

Glenn acknowledges Lamborn has "periodic check-ins" with local officials and community groups but says, "I would initiate things more. I would want to go out into the communities and figure out what, from an economic standpoint, what are the things that are creating barriers to people getting jobs and employment."

He mentioned a few issues he's emphasizing in his campaign - helping victims of domestic violence, treating victims of drug abuse, reforming the criminal justice system, affordable housing - and described how fostering collaboration can help solve them.

"What are the things we're doing to create barriers for people to be able to reintegrate back into life and create economic prosperity on their own? There are so many ways we can continue to peel back that onion and learn and then actually be able to make some impactful change on people's lives," Glenn said.

An 'F' for Congress

Glenn said he was moved to run for Congress because incumbents appear to be protecting their jobs rather than solving problems.

"It seems like elected officials in Washington are trying to do the bare minimum to be able to deal with the box that they put themselves in. The box they put themselves in, especially Republicans, is the fact that they've been campaigning for so many election cycles about repealing the Affordable Care Act. They have not put a bill on the president's desk. It's more about, 'What can we do to be able to go home and pacify our constituents and say we did something, and we can be re-elected to go back and do the same thing.' That's a fundamental problem you're seeing in Congress, and I think that needs to change."

With Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress and the presidency, Glenn said, "Right now they're at their midterm, and I'm giving Congress an F. You have time, you need to go to study hall, you need to do extra homework, you need to get out and talk to people - you have time to finish your final exam, but right now, you're not getting a passing grade, from the top to the bottom.

"If you're going to continue to reward bad behavior, things aren't going to change."

Glenn said without hesitation that his favorite memory from his Senate run is when he got married to Jane Northrup in an October ceremony his campaign kept a secret, just weeks before Election Day. After finalizing his divorce last March, Glenn met and got engaged to Northrup, who founded a company to match felons with jobs after they were released from prison and was a campaign volunteer.

"That was by far the highlight," he said.

But it wasn't his only treasured memory, he added.

"Unless you are a believer, you won't understand, and I welcome anyone who wants to have a conversation about this. But having the ability to pray with and pray for people, by far, is something I will forever remember. To be able to go to somebody's home - and they literally brought their church there to you, formed a circle and had a prayer session for you, just to be able to send you off to your next event. That just shows you how much people are invested in individuals, and you should never take that for granted."

It's a touchstone for his congressional campaign, Glenn said.

"People will share their story with you. They'll talk about some of the things that are preventing them from being able to get a job. They'll talk about some of the things going on in their family. A lot of people have lost hope - they've voted, they've donated, they've walked precincts, and they figure, 'I might as well give up because nobody's listening to me.'"

Glenn frowned, and then he flashed that smile again.

"If you're running just because you want to be in Washington, you want to stay in power, you want to live that life, then you're in it for the wrong reason. If you want to be a servant, if you want to help people with solutions, that's the right reason, and that's what I'm going to do."

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