With lead­er­ship se­lec­tion loom­ing, “bold new di­rec­tion” in de­mand as state GOP re­builds

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nic Gar­cia

Re­build­ing af­ter ma­jor losses in 2018, the Colorado Repub­li­can Party hopes to move for­ward with a new party chair.

When movers and shak­ers of the Colorado Repub­li­can Party meet in March to de­cide who will lead them into the 2020 elec­tion, the stakes will be high.

Their stan­dard-bearer, U.S. Sen. Cory Gard­ner of Yuma, will be up for re-elec­tion, and he has been con­sid­ered vul­ner­a­ble since the day af­ter the 2018 elec­tion, in which Repub­li­cans suf­fered their most dev­as­tat­ing de­feat in mod­ern state his­tory.

And there will be an ef­fort to re­gain ground in the state Se­nate to pro­vide some sort of check on Demo­cratic Gov. Jared Po­lis and the near su­per­ma­jor­ity that Democrats hold in the state House.

“I’m tired of los­ing,” said Marla Spin­uzzi Re­ichert, chair­woman of the Pue­blo County Repub­li­cans. “More of the same is not the an­swer. We have to go in a bold new di­rec­tion.”

What that “bold new di­rec­tion” is may de­pend on who the next state party chair is. While there’s de­bate about how much in­flu­ence the chair has in shap­ing the party’s plat­form and im­age, the se­lec­tion will of­fer a win­dow into the think­ing of the brain trust of the state GOP and how they will go about re­cu­per­at­ing from their 2018 losses.

Po­lit­i­cal ob­servers and Repub­li­can in­sid­ers sug­gest there are two dis­tinct paths for­ward for the GOP. One is to be­gin out­reach to the in­de­pen­dent vot­ers who re­jected Repub­li­can can­di­dates due in large part to their dis­plea­sure with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. The other is to fo­cus on the party’s base, which has not kept up in size with the

grow­ing num­ber of Democrats and un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers in the state.

“One is math­e­mat­i­cally sound — the other is not,” said Kelly Ma­her, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal non­profit Com­pass Colorado.

As of Fri­day, at least three high­pro­file Repub­li­cans have an­nounced their can­di­dacy: U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, who rep­re­sents most of eastern Colorado; Sher­rie Gib­son, the party’s current vice chair; and state Rep. Su­san Beck­man, who rep­re­sents Lit­tle­ton.

Many more are likely to an­nounce, Repub­li­cans in­ter­viewed for this story said. Closer to the March 30 meet­ing, the party will set a non­bind­ing dead­line for can­di­dates to sub­mit their names.

On paper, the chair and other elected leaders of the state party are re­spon­si­ble for hir­ing the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, re­cruit­ing can­di­dates, fundrais­ing and speak­ing on be­half of their mem­bers. How­ever, each past chair has made the role big­ger or smaller depend­ing on their style.

Beck­man said she views the role as that of a “work­horse, not a show horse.”

She de­cided to run be­fore Jeff Hayes, the current state chair, an­nounced his plans not to seek an­other two-year term.

She said in an in­ter­view with The Den­ver Post that she wants to fo­cus on the party’s in­fra­struc­ture and re­cruit­ing new Coloradans into the party.

“We were out-strate­gized, out­worked,” she said. “It’s been a wake-up call for all of us. We need to unite and work together as a team to sup­port our can­di­dates. We had the best can­di­dates. In­fra­struc­ture is what let them down.”

Buck said he would fo­cus on fundrais­ing, en­sur­ing the party runs smoothly, and mes­sag­ing both to the me­dia and to the base. If he is elected as party chair, he has no plans to give up his seat in Con­gress.

In fact, he said, be­ing in Wash­ing­ton would be a ben­e­fit for fundrais­ing, open­ing new streams of rev­enue for the party.

“Democrats just don’t fundraise in Colorado, they do it around the coun­try,” he said. “We need to make sure peo­ple on our side un­der­stand that.”

Gib­son, who for­mally an­nounced her can­di­dacy on Fri­day, said out­reach to women and young peo­ple would be at the top of her to-do list, along with rais­ing money and re­build­ing the bench of can­di­dates.

“If we have con­ver­sa­tions about is­sues that mat­ter to them, then they’ll be­gin to see we’re a party for all Coloradans,” she said.

Who­ever wins the con­test won’t be start­ing from scratch. Af­ter the elec­tion, Hayes, the current chair, sur­veyed the party faith­ful on what went wrong. There have been ad­di­tional sur­veys and polls con­ducted by out­side groups. And an­other by the Repub­li­can polling firm Mag­el­lan Strate­gies is ex­pected later this win­ter.

In an email to sup­port­ers, Hayes said the party must fo­cus on re­cruit­ing and train­ing can­di­dates and cam­paign staff, build­ing part­ner­ships with groups out­side the tra­di­tional party, and voter regis­tra­tion.

Un­ad­dressed is Trump. There is an open ques­tion how Repub­ters li­cans can win in Colorado while he is so un­pop­u­lar with the state’s largest vot­ing bloc, un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers.

Each of the current can­di­dates for chair said they sup­port Trump. And each said in vary­ing de­grees that the party needs to find ways to dis­cuss the pres­i­dent with party loy­al­ists who sup­port the pres­i­dent, dis­af­fected Repub­li­cans and un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers.

The ul­ti­mate test of the party chair could be build­ing some sort of coali­tion among those three groups of vot­ers to de­liver vic­to­ries.

State Rep. Colin Lar­son, the only Jef­fer­son County Repub­li­can with a Demo­cratic chal­lenger to win a seat in the state House this year, said he hopes the next party chair helps can­di­dates lo­cal­ize the is­sues and pri­or­i­tize un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers.

“It’d be a huge mis­take to not pay at­ten­tion to them,” he said, adding that the party should fo­cus on in­di­vid­ual can­di­dates rather than the na­tional plat­form. “The av­er­age voter doesn’t ask for a party plat­form at the door. They ask me, the can­di­date, what I stand for.”

Sher­rieGib­son may be pro­moted from GOP vice chair.

Rep. Su­san Beck­manmay be­come state GOP chair.

U.S. Rep. Ken Buckalso is a can­di­date for the post.

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