After Colorado’s Blue Wave, What’s Next For The Republican Party And Chairman Jeff Hays

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Photo: Colorado Republican Chair Jeff Hays
Colorado GOP Chair Jeff Hays

The 2018 midterms swung Colorado into blue state territory as Democrats cinched a political trifecta in state politics.

As Colorado Republicans gather on the political borderlands, they've got a series of strategic decisions to make. One of those is choosing a new leader.

Colorado Republican Party chairman Jeff Hays recently announced he would not seek reelection. Those November election results played a role.

"I think if we had won more ... I was enjoying myself, and I think we were doing a pretty good job, and I probably would’ve just blindly stumbled forward and run for another term," Hays said.

When Hays spoke to Colorado Matters from the Republican watch party on election night, he was shaken by the results coming in. He called the moment a Republican "brand rejection" then, and seconds that assessment now.

"I do think there was a brand rejection, and it was a nationalized election," Hays said.

President Donald Trump caused many voters, from established Democrats to more left-leaning unaffiliateds, to "really hit the kill switch," Hays said.

Gov. Jared Polis' personal wealth was another factor in Colorado's blue wave, Hays said. The then-Democratic candidate was able to self-finance his campaign at a greater level than Walker Stapleton was, freeing up Democratic dollars for other candidates and for laying out a stronger campaigning network.

Republicans couldn't match that level of money and organization, Hays said.

"Democrats have done masterful job over the last 16 years of organizing their soft money, the PACs and the 527s," Hays said. "They started out in the year 2000 with what we affectionately call the 'Gang of Four.' People can read the blueprint and figure out how they did that. We just failed to respond to that. This election was an event that was also indicative of long-term trends."

Democrats are in control of both legislative chambers and the governor's office, as well as attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer. Hays and other Republicans have advocated a watchdog position, ensuring Democrats don't overstep with their political power.

Hays doesn't want Republicans to instinctively oppose all Democratic proposals, if they are "good ideas."

"But if they are doing things that really are in opposition to our foundational principles — namely government should defend your right to life, liberty and property, and not dictate all kinds of decisions — then I think we need to be in opposition," Hays said. "We need to make sure the voters of Colorado understand, 'You made choices, and these choices have consequences, and we provide what we think its a better alternative.' Because there is going to be another election."

Indeed, 2020 won't be uneventful for Colorado Republicans. Sen. Cory Gardner is up for reelection, and several possible Democratic candidates for his seat have already been floated (including former Gov. John Hickenlooper).

Gardner recently distanced himself from President Trump's agenda by calling for an end to the government shutdown without securing wall funding. Hays doesn't see that as the Republican senator opposing the president.

"I didn’t see Cory’s statements about border security and the government shutdown as being in necessarily opposition or distancing himself [from President Trump]. I think he’s his own man," Hays said.

The Republican chairman has faith in Gardner's chances for victory, citing the senator's strong campaign team, fundraising base and charismatic personality.

"[People] will continue to embrace Sen. Gardner. He’s really been a good servant for the people of Colorado I believe. He respects the party brand," Hays said.

While voters restored Democratic control in the Capitol, they also sided with Republican views when it came to propositions and amendments concerning taxation and the oil and gas industry. That, along with Polis' State of the State address, provide Republicans the building blocks for a new platform, Hays said.

"When we look at Gov. Polis’s State of the State address, very aspirational. Some of the things I think we could get on board and agreed with," Hays said. "There are other things that, man, 'Show me the money!'"

As for the election for his own seat, Hays has heard the news that Rep. Ken Buck is interested in running for party chair. He backs the U.S. congressman, calling him a "smart guy" and a good fundraiser.

The Republican Party will choose Hays' replacement in March.