George Brauchler, the district attorney who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooting, is abandoning his race to become Colorado's next governor and running for state attorney general instead, the Republican announced Monday.
"My decision to run for office has always been about my commitment to serving Colorado far more than it has been about the title of the elected position," Brauchler wrote in a statement. "That commitment remains just as strong as we make this important change."
Brauchler's switch comes days after the incumbent Republican, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, jumped in the crowded GOP primary field for governor instead of seeking a second term. Brauchler, a candidate for governor since April, faced fresh competition for conservative support after former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo got in the race at the end of October.
So far, Brauchler appears to have the primary field for attorney general to himself.
State Rep. Cole Wist, R-Centennial, said Monday morning in a Facebook post that he was no longer considering a run for attorney general and wished Brauchler well as he "pivots" to the race. George Leing, Colorado's Republican national committeeman and a former congressional candidate, has also said he was mulling a run for attorney general after Coffman quit that race.
In a statement suggesting Brauchler will have a clear path to the nomination, the head of the Republican Attorneys General Association, the national group tasked with electing Republican attorneys general, cheered Brauchler's announcement.
"George Brauchler is exactly the type of leader we need running for public office," said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in a statement. "He is experienced, committed, and driven to service. A colonel in the Colorado National Guard, as well as the district attorney who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooter, George has proven he will protect and defend Colorado."
Brauchler's departure leaves nine Republicans running to replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. In addition to Coffman and Tancredo, others still in the race include State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, businessman and former lawmaker Victor Mitchell and investment banker Doug Robinson, who's also Mitt Romney's nephew.
Announcing his decision, Brauchler made light of the crowded field.
"Any day now, I expect John Elway, Todd Helton, Wonder Woman, and Santa Claus to jump into this race," he said. "In fact, if you're reading this, you have a 1-in-7 chance of running for governor of Colorado."
But Brauchler said as soon as Coffman said she was dropping her reelection bid, his phone and email "began to blow up" with people concerned a Democrat might win the office.
"I have been humbled by the many statements encouraging me to step away from the governor's race and take on the difficult task of mounting the defense of this pivotal position with less than a year on the campaign calendar and piles of money already raised by those seeking to take this office in a drastically new direction," he said.
Between them, the five Democrats running for attorney general have raised a combined $1.1 million.
Brauchler's campaign reported having roughly $175,000 on hand at the end of September, and he could transfer most of that to an attorney general campaign.
The Democratic attorney general candidates include state Rep. Joe Salazar, a Thornton Democrat; Phil Weiser, a past dean of the University of Colorado School of Law and a former Obama administration official; Michael Dougherty, the assistant district attorney for Jefferson and Gilpin counties and the former head of the criminal division in the attorney general's office under Coffman's Republican predecessor; former state and federal prosecutor Amy Padden; and Denver attorney Brad Levin.
A spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party greeted Brauchler's announcement with some derision.
"It's no coincidence Brauchler decided to get out of the race right after Republicans got shellacked across the country in the 2017 elections," Eric Walker, the state Democrats' communication director, said in a statement. "Unfortunately for Brauchler, he will still face an uphill battle in the AG race against a strong Democratic field and a looming anti-Trump wave looking to turn back the GOP's anti-middle class agenda."
Tancredo stopped short of endorsing Brauchler but nonetheless saluted the move.
"George might just be what Colorado is looking for in an attorney general," he told Colorado Politics. "I wish him luck and look forward to seeing him on the campaign trail."
Brauchler, 47, is serving his second term as district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, which covers Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. He's a colonel in the Colorado Army National Guard. He's a former deputy district attorney for Jefferson and Gilpin counties and was chief of military justice for Fort Carson and, at one time, the U.S. Division-North, 4th Infantry Division, Taskforce Ironhorse in Tikrit, Iraq, when he served in the Army Reserve before transferring to the National Guard.
The Associated Press and contributed to this report.