Gardner's jump to senate race leaves Colorado's 4th Congressional District contest wide open

February 27, 2014 Updated: February 28, 2014 at 2:04 pm
photo - U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, talks with Michael Brownlee and Laurie Loughrin, who are with Local Food Shift Group, while Gardner visited with customers and employees at Lucky's Market, 700 Ken Pratt Blvd. Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. (Lewis Geyer/Times-Call)
U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, talks with Michael Brownlee and Laurie Loughrin, who are with Local Food Shift Group, while Gardner visited with customers and employees at Lucky's Market, 700 Ken Pratt Blvd. Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. (Lewis Geyer/Times-Call) 

DENVER - The Colorado Capitol was buzzing Thursday about a game of political musical chairs set off by the bombshell announcement that incumbent Congressman Cory Gardner would leave his seat and run for U.S. Senate.

State Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, said he is getting calls asking him to run for Gardner's seat and he and his wife are praying about the decision.

"It's an honor to be considered," Renfroe said. "We'll see where the dust settles."

Gardner's decision kicked up quite the dust storm because the 4th Congressional District is considered a Republican lock. The eastern Colorado district stretches from Greeley to Castle Rock to Trinidad and east to the Kansas border.

It's rare for that kind of a Republican stronghold to come open this late in the race and many potential candidates are weighing the long-term benefits of a short-term sprint to the primary election in June.

"It's like when the Powerball gets to $600 million," Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said. "At some point you've got to buy a ticket."

Brophy is running for the Republican nomination to face Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014. Brophy was adamant that he's not tempted to run for the congressional seat.

"I am not running because I need an office," Brophy said. "I'm running because we need to replace Hickenlooper."

But he couldn't help but note how the right candidate taking over Gardner's seat could become congressman for life if he or she does a good job in office.

Other rumors pointed to state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, as a likely candidate, along with a slew of county commissioners throughout the district and even Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver. Renfroe and  Sonnenberg are term limited.

In the halls of the state Capitol, lawmakers were joking about moving into the 4th Congressional District.

Post redistricting, it's considered a safer district even than the Republican lock on the 5th Congressional District, which includes much of El Paso County and has been held by a Republican since its inception in 1973.

So just how many candidates could enter the field?

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck didn't hesitate to announce he would leave the race for Sen. Mark Udall's seat - the one Gardner just jumped into - and instead give Gardner's seat a shot. Some speculated that as many as 20 could enter the race.

Amy Runyan Harms, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, said she finds it interesting that Republicans are running to the race despite Buck so quickly announcing his intention.

"I think it demonstrates that he's a weak candidate overall," Harms said. "I think it shows he's damaged goods."

Not to mention the Democrats who might want to give the race a shot.

Vic Meyers, a Democrat from Trinidad, has filed his paperwork to run.

It's thrown everything for a loop leading into the precinct caucus meetings scheduled for Tuesday.

State Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, withdrew from the U.S. Senate race saying she couldn't run against Gardner - a close personal friend and also someone who inspires confidence in her for the future of the Republican party.

"I look at him with his resources and his campaign structure and I think he'll be able to raise $2 million to $3 million quickly," Stephens said. "He just comes in in such a strong position."

Stephens has served in the state House for eight years and is facing term limits in November, but said she's not sure what her next step is.

"When I decided to run for the Senate, I didn't come up with a plan B," Stephens said.

For now she is going to focus on throwing all of her efforts behind Gardner, including holding fundraisers for him and anything else she can do to help.

Not all of counties are doing straw polls in Tuesday's caucuses, but those that are will have to scramble, depending on how the cards fall, to get ballots printed with the correct candidates in the correct races.


Contact Megan Schrader


Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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