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Gazette Premium Content Colorado GOP prepares for primaries

By Megan Schrader Updated: April 21, 2014 at 8:46 am

Colorado Republicans are gearing up for a tough primary season.

Even weathered incumbents such as Rep. Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton drew primary opponents at last week's GOP assembly.

And in the race for governor, a fairly evenly matched showdown among four candidates with diverse backgrounds could get ugly quick, although so far that's not been the case.

But, in what is perhaps the most important race for Republicans - the bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Mark Udall - challenger Cory Gardner, a Colorado lawmaker, has a clear path to the general election in November.

"I don't know what Doug Lamborn or Scott Tipton say they would save by not having a primary, but from a financial resources point of view it is a significant burden lifted off of our shoulders," said Gardner, who beat two other Republicans at the assembly to be the sole nominee for U.S. Senate. "We looked at our primary in the Senate race and estimated that it saved over $1 million."

Clearing the way for Gardner was a mass exodus of candidates - state Rep. Amy Stephens of Monument, state Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck - who left the Senate race and backed Gardner. In the bid for governor, however, it looks unlikely that any of the four candidates will budge from the race.

"Primaries are helpful as long as our Republican candidates focus on their own record and don't fall into the trap of disparaging one another," said Ryan Call, Colorado GOP chairman. "So far in our Republican primaries, the candidates have been able to draw meaningful contrast but always ensuring the ability for us to unify. Winning a primary at the expense of being able to win the general is not a recipe for success."

The candidates for governor have come to a type of a gentlemen's agreement not to attack one another.

Democratic party chairman Rick Palacio is looking forward to watching the Republican candidates in the gubernatorial primary race.

"They don't have much in common with average working people of our state," he said. "We're going to enjoy the highlights of that over the next few months."

The winner of that primary will face incumbent Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper in November.

Bob Loevy, professor emeritus of political science at Colorado College, said his take on the crowded primary for governor is that Republican leadership didn't take the race seriously enough to intervene and urge candidates not to run for office and instead to back the strongest among them.

"Gov. Hickenlooper is an incumbent, and he does not appear vulnerable at all," Loevy said. "If it came into anyone's mind that the Republicans might actually win the governorship then I think you will start to see real competition in the primary and the real negativism that will begin."

Call said Hickenlooper's lack of leadership has led Colorado in the wrong direction and voters are ready for a change. If a strong-Republican candidate can emerge from the primary without bruises, the fight will be on, he said.

Lamborn poured a $100,000 personal loan into his campaign after Republican challenger Bentley Rayburn entered the race for the 5th Congressional District in predominately Republican El Paso and Teller counties.

"Congressman Lamborn believes that this is not the time for conservatives and Republicans to be fighting amongst themselves," said Lamborn spokesman Jarred Rego. "With liberalism on the ropes, now is the time for Republicans to be taking the fight to liberals and Democrats, not attempting to remove one of the most conservative members of Congress."

That being said, Rego said the congressman is ready to "roll with the punches and conquer the challenges."

The winner of that primary will go on to face Democrat Irv Halter, who like most Democrats this election season won't have a primary.

Aside from the money and the political in-fighting, primaries have another drawback for candidates in Colorado, where independent, unaffiliated voters reign supreme. A primary demands candidates appeal to a party base and spend less time on messages to independent voters.

Gardner, for example, recently retracted his stance on personhood - attempts to define life as beginning at the moment an egg is fertilized - saying he was wrong on the issue and no longer supports the movement. That's seen by many as an important political step in a state that has several times resoundingly defeated personhood amendments at the ballot.

Gardner agreed not having a primary will give him more time to focus his message on all voters.

"It allows you to communicate with them right away," Gardner said. "Instead of focusing on Republican voters, instead of focusing on Democratic voters, you can now focus on every voter."

Palacio, spoke for Democrats, and said changing his message is exactly what Gardner is attempting to do.

"Regardless of what Cory Gardner says about his positions, his voting record speaks loud and clear he is not a moderate," Palacio said.

The fight is going to be a tough one. Udall is still an incumbent U.S. Senator in Colorado, where the last time one was kicked out was 1978, when Republican Bill Armstrong beat Democrat Floyd Haskell.

Loevy however, doesn't count out the real possibility that a tidal wave of Republican votes will emerge, driven by the negative sentiment around the Affordable Care Act.

"The dominant thing about this election is that it's the sixth year of a presidency and this is one of the most strongly patterned trends: Political parties tend to do very poorly in the election after six years of their president being in office," Loevy said.

The trend can be traced back to 1918 when with a Democratic president in his sixth year lost 25 House seats to Republicans and the Senate six. The one exception to the rule was 1998 under philandering President Bill Clinton when Loevy said Republicans overplayed the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Could the GOP overplay "Obamacare" the reform of America's health care system and it backfire? Maybe, Loevy said, but he's betting on a red tide sweeping into office.

If the pattern holds, GOP candidates will be swept into offices across the state regardless of individual qualifications or incumbent status, he said, and political parties often fail to capitalize on these sweeps by not putting up their strongest candidates in races that are a long shot. The primary election is June 24.

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Colorado Republican contested primaries

GOVERNOR

Bob Beauprez, former congressman entered the race late and petitioned onto the ballot

Scott Gessler, secretary of state who came in a close-second at the GOP assembly

Mike Kopp, former state House Republican leader who won the top spot at the GOP assembly

Tom Tancredo, former congressman who appeals to the right-wing and petitioned onto the ballot

3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

Scott Tipton, incumbent from Cortez has held office since 2010

David Cox, a Palisade peach farmer who has a degree in electrical engineering

4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT (LEFT VACANT BY CORY GARDNER WHO IS RUNNING FOR U.S. SENATE)

Scott Renfroe, term-limited state senator from Greeley who got the top GOP nomination

Ken Buck, Weld County district attorney who at first was running for U.S. Senate

Barbara Kirkmeyer, Weld County commissioner who petitioned onto the ballot

Steve Laffey, an investment banker and former mayor of a town in Rhode Island petitioned onto the ballot

5TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

Doug Lamborn, incumbent since 2006 has a conservative voting record to stand behind

Bentley Rayburn, retired Air Force major general entered the race late and surprised many by getting on the ballot

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Cynthia Coffman, deputy attorney general backed by Attorney General John Suthers who is term limited

Mark Waller, Colorado Springs legislator who stepped down from House Republican leader to run for attorney general

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