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Gazette Premium Content Four GOP candidates looking for an edge in primary

photo - Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, center, gestures while answering a question, flanked by former state Sen. Mike Kopp, left, and former Rep. Bob Beauprez during a debate of the Colorado Republican gubernatorial hopefuls hosted by 9NEWS, in Denver, Thursday April 24, 2014. A fourth candidate, former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, chose not to participate in the debate. The GOP primary is in June. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) + caption
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, center, gestures while answering a question, flanked by former state Sen. Mike Kopp, left, and former Rep. Bob Beauprez during a debate of the Colorado Republican gubernatorial hopefuls hosted by 9NEWS, in Denver, Thursday April 24, 2014. A fourth candidate, former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, chose not to participate in the debate. The GOP primary is in June. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
By Megan Schrader Updated: June 8, 2014 at 11:39 am

DENVER - The four Republican gubernatorial candidates have spent a combined $1.8 million in the race to earn the GOP nomination in the June 24 primary and face Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper in November.

The cash has paid for television, radio, online and print ads in the last frenzied days of the erace when ballots are already out and Republican voters are starting to make their decision.

Former Congressman Tom Tancredo has outspent his opponents significantly in the race, spending almost $689,000 billing himself as the tough motorcycle-riding conservative and political outsider who will make tough decisions.

Close on his heels is another former congressman, Bob Beauprez, who has spent $463,000 highlighting his Colorado roots as a successful banker and rancher who can boost Colorado's economy with his business background.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler has an ad that notes both Tancredo and Beauprez have lost to Democrats in past gubernatorial races while Gessler defeated a Democrat incumbent in 2010. He's spent $421,000 so far.

Finally, former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp has spent $214,000 but none of it on television ads. Instead, the candidate who won the top line at the Republican assembly has blanketed the internet and peddled almost 450 miles on a bike tour of the state.

Compared with Republican primaries in the past, the ads have remained remarkably positive, focusing on the candidates' strengths rather than throwing barbs at each other's weaknesses.

Gessler, the only candidate with an ad mentioning the records of his opponents, said the clean campaign barely registers on the political negativity scale.

"I point that out in my ad," Gessler says of his opponents' defeats. "But you don't see any of the Republican candidates attacking one another's integrity ... you don't see snarkiness or anger in the race."

Gessler may be behind slightly in spending, but as of June 2 he still had $69,000 cash in his campaign fund due to a last-minute spurt in donations.

"I think that we've got a lot of momentum and people are seeing that," Gessler said. "The fact that I've cut fees and cut regulations and have the best approach out of anyone to get Colorado back on track, that's resonating with everyone."

Kopp is down to $30,000 in campaign funds with just over two weeks remaining in the race.

He's running a grass roots campaign focused on winning voters over in person as he travels the state.

Delegates at the Republican assembly in Boulder responded with a standing ovation to his speech and he's said to have swayed voters that day winning him the top spot on the ballot.

"We have a lot of energy and excitement around the tour that we just did and all of the grass roots support that we have," Kopp said Friday after he became the first candidate to announce his running mate for lieutenant governor. "I view this race as one about which conservative has demonstrated, based on their track record, that they can advance a conservative reform agenda no matter what the makeup of the General Assembly. I served my whole time as a state Senator as a member of the minority party and yet I was able to get signed into law tax cuts and a meaningful law and order immigration reform law."

Who Democrats view as the real threat in November was made apparent last week with a thinly veiled attack ad that made Tancredo seem like the true conservative over Beauprez. The ad was paid for by Protect Colorado Values, a political organization that lists Julie Wells, a common front-person for Democratic groups, as the filing agent.

Beauprez said he takes the ad as somewhat of a strange compliment.

"This is not even a veiled attempt to get somebody other than me the nomination," Beauprez said. "Hickenlooper doesn't want to stand up to the test I'm going to give him."

Beauprez entered the race late, but still has $116,000 cash on hand in the final two weeks, despite paying signature gatherers to help put him on the ballot after by-passing the GOP assembly.

"I turned $4 million of troubled assets to $450 million," Beauprez says, pointing to his turnaround of Heritage Bank since he purchased it in 1990. "Regulators were pointing to us as a well-run bank ... it's the same executive skills that a governor has got to have."

He's also given his own campaign far more than any other candidate, personally loaning $320,000.

Tancredo laughed about the Democrat-driven ad, agreeing that he is indeed the most conservative guy in the race.

He doesn't agree, however, that he'd be Hickenlooper's easiest opponent in November.

"I think every Republican needs to think very long and hard about what type of campaign and what type of candidate can win in Colorado in a statewide election that we have not won for either governor or U.S. senator for a long, long time," Tancredo said. "It is my contention that, that candidate must be able to attract independents and affilates to his candidacy ... if we run a traditional candidate and a traditional campaign we will have a traditional outcome."

Democrats might be banking on Tancredo's hard line and at times controversial stance on immigration, which doesn't play well with the state's Latino voters.

But Viva Tancredo ads are all over the state along with ads on Spanish radio stations for Tancredo.

"They (the Hispanic population) are no more excited about illegal immigration than I am," Tancredo said. "They recognize that it often hurts people on the lowest rung of the economic ladder ... many of them came to the U.S. the right way and those who are coming the wrong way are only hurting them."

Whoever wins on is going to encounter a Democratic establishment ready to fight for the incumbent. Hickenlooper has raised more than $2.8 million and has $832,000 cash on hand after a nearly $1 million media buy in May.

Contact Megan Schrader

719-286-0644

Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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