Updated: February 26, 2014 at 10:06 pm
DENVER - The GOP candidate shake up Wednesday drew praise from some and ire from others as sources confirmed that Congressman Cory Gardner will drop his reelection bid for the U.S. House and run for U.S. Senate.
Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck announced he will step out of the crowded Republican Senate race to make room for Gardner and instead run for Gardner's 4th Congressional District seat.
"We need to replace Mark Udall in the Senate, and I believe Congressman Cory Gardner is in the strongest position to make that happen," Buck said in a statement. "The Senate race has never been about me, but about helping change the direction of the country. I hope to have the opportunity to lead the fight for limited government and fiscal responsibility as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives."
State Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, was also running for Udall’s Senate seat, but told The Gazette on Wednesday she planned to drop out of the race and support Gardner.
Gardner is now trying to win his party's nomination and unseat Democrat Sen. Mark Udall, who has amassed a $4.7 million war chest for his reelection.
It's a risky move for Gardner, who was all but a lock for reelection in his U.S. House seat, and although Buck is out of the primary, five other Republican candidates remain in the race.
One of those candidates, state Sen. Owen Hill from Colorado Springs, said Gardner approached him two weeks ago and pressured him to leave the race.
"This is the exact same corruption and back-room deals that have caused the Republican party to lose elections year after year," Hill said. "It's party leadership trying to decide who gets to run."
He said that effort has only affirmed his need to run as a grass roots politician, one who will let the public - not the establishment - decide on the best candidate for the Republican party.
The other candidates in the race are Mark Aspiri, a businessman from Glenwood Springs, Floyd Trujillo and Sen. Randy Baumgardner, of Cowdrey. A frequent candidate, never victor, Tom Janich, said he is entering the race and participated in the debate but hasn't filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.
Gardner had $876,679 cash on hand in his campaign fund for his re-election at the last reporting cycle, funds he will transfer as he works to get the Republican nomination and then, if successful, to defeat Udall.
Hill had $206,415 cash on hand and Stephens $48,192.
Udall's campaign manager said the senator looks forward to "debating the important issues that impact our future."
Jennifer Koch, executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party, said Udall is working hard for Colorado in the Senate and added that Gardner's move shows a lack of confidence in the Republican party.
"It has now taken them just before precinct caucus day for them to get another candidate into the race," Koch said, noting that on March 4 precincts across the state will elect delegates for both GOP and Democratic races.
"Although surprising, this more shows a weakness in the Republican party among themselves," she said.
The announcement, which hasn't been made formal, but that sources close to the Gardner campaign confirm will come in days, also occurs the day after six U.S. Senate candidates took part in a debate hosted by the Denver Post.
Koch said it opens the door for a Democrat takeover in the 4th Congressional District, although as of now there are no candidates in that race.
Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Committee, said he finds that unlikely, although he said Republicans will work hard for every vote in every district.
"It's a district that represents the values of Colorado," Call said.
Buck has $262,347 in his campaign fund going into the 4th Congressional District race.
Contact Megan Schrader