The GOP Senate primary in Colorado was a model of comity as candidates nimbly coalesced around Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO).
Frontrunner Ken Buck had an acrimonious history with the GOP establishment, but top officials in Washington launched a détente campaign that helped soften old wounds. That paved the way for Buck to drop out and instead run for Gardner’s House seat.
Now, Gardner is polling evenly with the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Mark Udall.
The Republican primary for the governor’s race is a different beast.
Former representative and long-shot presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, famous for his stiff resistance to amnesty, is battling it out with current well-respected Rep. Bob Beauprez, who entered the race late.
Tancredo is a perennial Colorado politician. He served in Congress for five terms and ran in the 2010 gubernatorial election as an American Constitution Party candidate.
In the 2010 cycle, Colorado was one of the few states left dry by the Tea Party’s wave. Buck lost in the Senate race, and Tancredo split the conservative vote in the governor’s race with flawed Republican nominee Dan Maes. Tancredo earned 36 percent of the vote, losing to Democrat John Hickenlooper, who won with 51 percent.
Tancredo filed to run in 2014 about a year ago and has been leading in the polls. Although he and Tancredo are friends, when Beauprez tried to clear the field a la Gardner, it didn’t have the same results.
“I said, ‘Look, Bob, there is no way that I can get out or would–because I am ahead of everybody and I have as good an opportunity to beat Hickenlooper as anybody else,'” Tancredo said in an interview with Breitbart News.
Beauprez jumped in anyway, filing in March. (He said the delay was because he was busy pitching the Republican National Committee to hold its 2016 convention in Denver.) He got a significant boost in February when RedState Editor-in-Chief Erick Erickson wrote that only Beauprez could unite the GOP statewide and beat Hickenlooper.
There are five other candidates in the race, including Secretary of State Scott Gessler and state Senator Mike Kopp.
Since launching his bid, Beauprez seems to have taken votes from Gessler and Kopp, while leaving Tancredo’s support intact.
Kopp said he’s still optimistic. “The wave seems to continue to grow and mount. You know, you see the enthusiasm and people joining our grassroots team across the state,” Kopp said in an interview. “I see this as a winnable race for us.”
Although there was an attempt to cast Beauprez as the frontrunner, Kopp told Breitbart News that he doesn’t “think that’s quite the place where he landed.”
“He’s just not been able to clear the field,” Gessler added.
Hickenlooper’s approval numbers cratered during a divisive gun control debate in 2013. They have since recovered somewhat, and he now leads the major GOP candidates in head-to-head matchups.
The latest Qunnipiac poll of the race showed Hickenlooper leading Tancredo by seven points, Beauprez and Kopp by nine points, and Gessler by ten points.
“I think that’s a function of Bob Beauprez getting in the race and fracturing the Republican voters even a little bit more,” Gessler said.
Tancredo has refused to join the Republican primary debates, explaining that as the only candidate with differences with the primary field, he would be the target of his opponents’ attacks.
“I’ve never seen a situation where Republicans debating each other in a primary has ever helped the actual party nominee at the end,” Tancredo says. “I’ve never seen it. It always works to the detriment of the nominee and the benefit of his Democratic opponent.”
Beauprez, however, is quickly garnering support from the Denver business community and many members of the party establishment. According to sources familiar with the matter, his April fundraising numbers will be impressive.
But Tancredo has no intention of stepping aside.
“If you nominate somebody that can bring the disparate parts of the party together–Tea Party and libertarian-leaning Republicans–and also attract a significant number of independents, then you can win the race as a Republican,” Tancredo said. “If you run a traditional candidate and a traditional campaign as a Republican, you will get a traditional outcome, and that tradition has been that we lose.”
For his part, Tancredo recently earned the support of high-profile conservative author Michelle Malkin, who lives in Colorado. Malkin said Tancredo is “exactly what Colorado needs,” and during a campaign event with Malkin, Tancredo jokingly suggested that she should run with him as lieutenant governor. (Malkin declined.)
In spite of Hickenlooper’s newfound stability, Republicans view him as an easy target–a thin-skinned governor who has never faced a tough election.
“Hickenlooper has a glass jaw; he really is vulnerable on a lot of things,” Tancredo said, noting that at one point, he was actually leading the Democratic governor in the polls.
“Nobody’s really laid a glove on him yet,” Beauprez agrees, pointing out that the governor has enjoyed easy political races in the past. “He’s about to get a glove laid on him.”
In the past, Hickenlooper has won his elections as a pro-business moderate, but Republicans believe that his close ties to the professional left have been exposed.
Beauprez highlighted that Hickenlooper failed to veto a single bill passed by the democratically led state legislature which passed a lot of burdensome regulations.
“The curtain has been drawn back; the emperor has no clothes,” he said.