Colorado has largely been spared from this summer's political wrangling ahead of the 2016 presidential race. But as Republicans nationally are working to narrow the presidential field, the GOP in Colorado wants to widen its field of candidates to run against incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet next year.
"The numbers tell us Senator Bennet is vulnerable," said Republican state party Chairman Steve House. "It would be great to hold onto the U.S. Senate. Republicans have to defend a number of seats more than the Democrats."
That's 24 for Republicans, while Democrats only have to defend ten U. S. Senate seats. Several Republicans, including El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn and former Small Business Administration head Greg Lopez, have already declared their candidacies. There's also murmurings that Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who prosecuted Aurora theatre shooter James Holmes, might enter the race.
"I have a high level of respect for Mr. Brauchler and nothing against anyone who has already filed in this campaign," said state Senator Chris Holbert (R-Parker). He said he would support Brauchler entering the race. He lives in Brauchler's judicial district and says he would be a strong contender for any political office he might seek.
"I have looked to George as a very viable candidate you know his name has been mentioned for Governor If he were to run for second term as DA, I could see him running for Attorney General."
Brauchler recently told the Colorado Statesman newspaper that he's still weighing a possible run and its impact on his wife and four young children. State party chair Steve House thinks the field will need to be decided by early October.
"I don't think anybody entering after that has a great chance."
The presidential race is another story. The state GOP recently voted to cancel the presidential preference poll at the 2016 caucus. That's because new national rules mean the state's delegates to the Republican National Convention would be bound to vote for the winner of that straw poll.
"A preference poll could bind delegates to a candidate that the bulk of Coloradans don't care for," said House. "And that's always been one of the considerations especially when you have large groups of activists who go to caucuses as opposed to what people would refer to as more establishment mainstream Republicans."
The decision to eliminate the presidential preference poll has been controversial with some worrying it limits grass roots participation. Colorado State University Political Science Professor John Straayer, says it also may lead to less attention on Colorado in the early stages of the race, but he thinks the public is paying attention, regardless.
"It's theater, it's amusement, it's different, it's unusual. The circus has come to town," said Straayer.
Both parties agree that nothing has changed from the last presidential election when it comes to purple Colorado, and it will remain one of the key swing states on the road to the White house. Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who unseated Democrat Mark Udall in one of the most hard fought races in 2014, said no candidate can win here without really speaking on issues that matter to voters.
"It's the environment, it's our education, it's our economy, it's jobs, what we're doing to put positive reforms to our state to grow opportunities for all Coloradans," said Gardner. "That's the person who is going to win our state, regardless of party."
After this month's Republican Presidential debate in California, the candidates will have a chance to perhaps highlight those issues important to Colorado when the debate stage comes to the University of Colorado in Boulder on October 28th.
Note 9/10/15: Colorado Springs businessman Robert Blaha told the Denver Post earlier this week that he plans to seek the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Senator Michael Bennet. Blaha, who most recently challenged Republican Representative Doug Lamborn in 2012, released a statement Tuesday saying that he will make a formal announcement in October.
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