There are five contenders vying to be the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and go up against Democrat Michael Bennet in the fall. One of them has a lot of support from national conservatives affiliated with the Tea Party Movement. Will that help him Tuesday? Maybe. And what about in November?
Darryl Glenn, an attorney, Air Force veteran and El Paso County Commissioner, got on the ballot with a rousing speech at the Republican state convention that eliminated the competition. He said he was tired of hearing about reaching across the aisle and that Republicans have to step up and lead. Also that he wanted to get Hillary Clinton out of her pants suit and into a bright orange jumpsuit.
People outside the state took notice of Glenn in a crowded field that did not include some of the more prominent names party leaders had hoped would run.
Glenn has racked up endorsements from:
- The Senate Conservatives Fund. This group seeks to bring “bold conservative leadership” to the Senate and has been a major backer of Tea Party candidates.
- FreedomWorks PAC. This group is the other successor entity to Citizens for a Sound Economy, founded in the 1980s by the Koch brothers. Not Americans for Prosperity, which is still funded by the conservative billionaires.
- Sarah Palin. You know who she is.
- Sen. Ted Cruz. You’ve probably heard of him too.
- Erick Erickson. A prominent conservative blogger, formerly of Red State and now writing at his new project, The Resurgent.
Jon Keyser, an attorney, former state representative and a major in the Air Force Reserves, was dubbed a favorite of the GOP establishment early in the primary season. (Controversy over allegedly fraudulent signatures on his petitions and the way he handled questions about it set him back in many people’s eyes.) But with the less conciliatory wing of the party ascendant in a year when Trump hangs over everything, it’s not clear what “establishment” means, exactly.
Keyser cares enough about the Senate Conservatives Fund’s endorsement that he called on the group to rescind it after Glenn criticized his military service. Keyser’s own endorsements, announced this spring before he was even on the ballot, include both mainstream Republicans and a hardliner on immigration who ran for governor as a Constitution Party candidate. They’re all long-time Colorado politicians.
- Former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown
- Former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens
- Former Rep. Tom Tancredo
Is Tea Party support good for Republican candidates in Colorado?
The Colorado Independent talked to longtime Republican activists who said hard-right candidates don’t do well in the general election here.
“The problem is that we’ve tried that before in Colorado,” (Former state GOP Chair Ryan) Call says, characterizing these outside groups as waging a proxy battle in this U.S. Senate race to advance a larger anti-establishment war nationwide.
Call is talking about 2010, a year that was incredibly strong for Republicans around the country and that saw Tea Party-affiliated Republicans here lose races for governor and senator.
That was the election when Bennet secured his seat after being appointed in 2009 to replace Sen. Ken Salazar, who left to be Obama’s Secretary of Interior.
Certainly, Colorado Democrats are very quick to point out these endorsements — as well as the three of the five Republican candidates’ stated intention to support the Republican nominee for president (that would be Trump) — to cast the candidates as too extreme for the state.
Prominent endorsements get a little thin on the ground after that.
Robert Blaha is a Colorado Springs businessman who draws comparisons to Trump for his “blunt” talk. He has the support of his hometown newspaper and a former rival, as well as the Family Research Council.
- The Colorado Springs Gazette. This conservative newspaper’s editorial board said Blaha, who draws comparisons to Trump for his “blunt” talk, really is different, not like other politicians who just say they’re different.
- FRC Action PAC. That’s the political arm of the Family Research Council, a group that cares most deeply about abortion and gay marriage (they’re against it).
- State Sen. Tim Neville. A lot of people thought he was the favorite to be the Republican Senate candidate, but he was defeated at the convention. With his son, former Rocky Mountain Gun Owners lobbyist Joe Neville running Blaha’s campaign, this endorsement targets longtime party activists.
Ryan Frazier is a former Aurora City Councilman and a former Navy intelligence analyst. Who thinks you should vote for Frazier? The Durango Herald.
The editorial board appreciated Frazier’s focus on economic issues and his temperament. “Of the remainder (of the candidates), Graham is the most qualified, but it is downhill from there.” Ouch.
Then there is Jack Graham. He’s a businessman and former athletic director at Colorado State University. He’s a pro-choice Republican, until 18 months ago a registered Democrat. That doesn’t net a lot of high-profile endorsements. It doesn’t necessarily mean Graham is in a weak position, though.
He has put a lot of his own money into his campaign, $1.5 million in the most recent campaign finance filings, the Denver Post reported. He’s also raised more than anyone else, $465,000 in the last reporting period. Graham is putting at least $1 million into television ads before the end of the campaign.
Glenn, for all his new-found prominence, only raised $137,000, the Post said. The Senate Conservatives Fund is expected to put almost twice that into the race on his behalf.
With no reliable polling, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.
The Denver Post called the race a “high-stakes crapshoot.”
Whoever comes out ahead next week, they face a number of challenges in taking on Bennet in the fall. The Denver Post reported last week that Bennet raised more than $1.65 million from April 1 through June 8. He has $5.7 million in cash on hand. That’s down from $7.6 million at the start of April, but a lot of that money was turned into television advertising.
The Republicans, in contrast, are ending the primary season pretty much broke from battling each other. But most observers expect a big influx of national money once the primary is over and there’s a candidate.
Bennet is regularly called the most vulnerable Democratic senator in the national political press. (He’s the only Democrat on this Roll Call list of vulnerable senators.) He barely won his first election, squeaking through with just two points. And Republicans were emboldened by Sen. Cory Gardner’s win over incumbent Democrat Mark Udall in 2014.
But the combination of little-known candidates, controversies over forged and insufficient signatures and a crowded field has national conservatives sweating it. The National Review describes funders taking a “wait and see” approach.
What might have been a top priority in another year has become a question mark for Republicans looking at the race: Will a candidate emerge that is strong enough to justify investment? And will Colorado even be competitive at all?
The primary is Tuesday. A little more than 20 percent of eligible Republican voters have turned in their ballots already, according to the most recent numbers from the Colorado Secretary of State.
Update: This story has been changed to reflect Friday morning’s ballot returns.