It was a spirited race that pitted a seasoned party veteran against an upstart who had cast himself as the anti-establishment candidate. In the end, the seasoned veteran won - by a huge margin - becoming the next GOP state party chair.
Former El Paso County Republican Chair Jeff Hays of Colorado Springs will lead Colorado's Republicans for the next two years, having overwhelmingly defeated George Athanasopoulos of Wheat Ridge, 284-146, at the state party's biennial election Saturday in Englewood. Athanasopoulos had been the first to announce his candidacy for the post after losing a bid for Congress in Colorado's 7th District last Nov. 8 against incumbent Democrat Ed Perlmutter.
Hays, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, is an Air Force Academy grad; onetime academy faculty member, and yearslong member of the coaching staff for the Air Force Falcons football team. He had led the El Paso County GOP, the state's largest county party, for two terms before announcing earlier this year he would seek to become state party chair.
"I'm humbled, I'm happy, I'm ready to get to work," Hays said after the vote by the state party Central Committee. "Everyone who's heard me give a stump speech has heard me spell the word "fun" - W-I-N. My goal is to make sure Colorado's Republicans have a lot of fun in November 2018."
Also elected at today's state party meeting was new Vice Chair Sherrie Gibson, of Colorado Springs, who defeated Mesa County Trump campaign Chair Kevin McCarney, of Grand Junction, 283-134.
Republicans re-elected state party Secretary Brandi Meek by acclimation as she ran unopposed.
Hays had based his candidacy on his prowess in fundraising and organizing - the "nitty-gritty" of the state chair's job, as he put it to ColoradoPolitics.com when he announced his candidacy in January.
"It takes money; it takes organizational skill; it takes patience; it takes willingness to let people state their minds," he said at the time.
He said he honed those abilities at the helm of El Paso County's party.
"We've set turnout records in the last two elections in El Paso County."
He has said that philosophically, he is "as conservative as anybody in the race" and is a staunch believer in federalism and the 10th Amendment, reserving power to the states. However, he says the job of party chair is at least as much about raising funds, building infrastructure and developing winning strategies and tactics.
His campaign aimed to contrast Hays' skills in that regard with the relative inexperience of Athanasopoulos.
Hays also won the battle of endorsements, reeling in a series of them from the state's most prominent Republicans. The list included state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.
Athanasopoulos - who had attracted party dissidents opposed to Hays like longtime GOP gadfly Matt Arnold - had dismissed Hays' endorsements as, "the Republican elites and the political class."
Hays is prominent among Air Force Falcons fans. He was the kicking coach and recruiting coordinator for the Falcons from 1998 to 2005 under legendary Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry.
Former state GOP chair Steve House announced in January he would not seek another term.