Outgoing State GOP Chair’s 2020 Advice: Focus On Money, Message And (Carefully) Stand By Trump

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

With Democrats in full control of the state Capitol, Colorado's Republicans are at a crossroads. As the GOP chooses its next leader on Saturday, the question is: what kind of difference can the winner make in a state that seems to be moving from purple to blue?

Jeff Hays, the outgoing GOP chair, said fundraising and its downstream effects need to be front and center in any Republican strategy ahead of 2020.

The Democrats have established a "real strategic advantage" in the last 16 years in what Hays calls the soft dollar aspect of campaign contributions: "Organizing their independent expenditure committees, their issue committees and things like that much better than we have."

Republicans, on the other hand, focused on hard dollar fundraising directly for the party and candidates, he said. That money was spent on get-out-the-vote efforts, running efficient caucuses and coordinating campaigns across the state. "On the soft-dollar side Republicans have parts and pieces, we have committees and groups, but we don't really integrate, we don't play as a coordinated unit."

"The Democrats have a well-oiled machine," he said. Republicans, on the other hand, didn't have the resources in place for a "coordinated, year-long ground game."

Another part of the ongoing challenge for Republicans is demographic, Hays agreed. Magellan Strategies, in Colorado, which does polling and campaign consulting, reports that of new voters in 2018, Republican registrants were the smallest slice of the pie. On top of that, unaffiliateds overall broke for Democrats in the mid-terms.

"We have had an influx if younger people. Younger people tend to vote more Democrat, or lean a little bit more left than we would prefer," he said. Combine that with the fundraising and campaign spending dynamics on the soft-dollar side, and there's a challenge in reaching new voters with an effective GOP message. Hays estimates there are 50 Democrat-leaning voter-registration organizations to compared to perhaps one for Republicans.

"We are getting trounced on voter registration and voter interaction."

Is health care the Republican's path to victory? Both parties see promise in focusing on health care. Democrats say it's partly why they won the House back. President Donald Trump says his party should lead on the issue, but at the same time, his administration is calling for Obamacare to be struck down entirely.

Health care "is a step," Hays said. "But it's not enough for Republicans to say 'We don't want to do that.' We need to have an alternative. And I think our alternative needs to be free-market based -- freedom, choice, those kinds of things we really should be what out party platform is all about. You can't just blow [Obamacare] up and have nothing to replace it with."

To win on health care, "We can't just be the party of 'no,'" Hays said. "We need to be able to propose the next thing that not only is consistent with [GOP] ideology and our values of freedom, but that's actually going to work for Americans and have some compassion in it."

On election night in 2018 -- the mid-terms -- Hays told Colorado Matters that the GOP's loss of power was attributable in part to a referendum on President Trump, who was popular within the party, but not among independents and Democrats.

"The president is going to be on the ballot again. We have to be supportive and energetic and enthusiastic about our support of the president going into the 2020 election, but not be so myopically focused and fail to understand that not everybody feels that way. And we need to have some really persuasive arguments as to why those swing voters and unaffiliateds and conservative-leaning Democrats view him as a better option."

None of the three people trying to replace Hays as chair -- state Rep. Susan Beckman, congressman Ken Buck, and current vice-chair Sherrie Gibson -- have been willing to place blame on the president for the Democrats' first clean sweep into power since 1936.

The Colorado Sun quoted Beckman recently saying, “There is some element of anti-Trump in Colorado, but I think it is smaller than has been reflected in some of the surveys."

In the same Sun report, Buck said, "I don’t think it’s fair to blame Trump for what happened.” Gibson also said "I don't blame Trump," but did acknowledge in the story that “there is an element of unaffiliateds who were certainly unhappy with the messaging tone and tenor coming out of the White House."

What about adopting a more moderate tone? Rep. Lois Landgraf of Colorado Springs and former state lawmakers Dan Thurlow and Polly Lawrence have created an independent expenditure committee, Friends for the Future, to recruit and train more moderate candidates. The aim is to appeal to a broader swath of voters, especially the state’s growing segment of unaffiliated voters.

Hays said GOP candidates should instead pay close attention to what voters in their districts are looking for, and tailor messages to meet those needs.