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18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, the Republican candidate for Colorado attorney general. speaks at a debate with Democrat Phil Weiser in Denver. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Republican George Brauchler ran uncontested to become his party’s nominee for Colorado attorney general.

But that’s not exactly the whole story.

The 18th Judicial District Attorney spent months running as a candidate for Colorado governor before switching to the down-ballot race after current GOP Attorney General Cynthia Coffman opted not to seek another term and instead make a run for the governor’s mansion. (Coffman did not make the primary ballot in that contest.)

Brauchler is one of the Colorado GOP’s biggest rising stars and the outcome of his run against Democrat Phil Weiser, former dean of the University of Colorado Law School, could have ripple effects for the party down the line.

MORE: George Brauchler vs. Phil Weiser: Where Colorado’s attorney general candidates stand on the issues, from marijuana to the death penalty

The 48-year-old Lakewood native and University of Colorado graduate is an experienced prosecutor running in a tough year for the GOP.

“The mood of the electorate under this particular president, in this particular midterm, is challenging,” Brauchler told The Colorado Sun.

He’s married with four children and lives in Douglas County.

We spoke with the candidate to get more insight into his background and how he would handle being the state’s top law enforcement officer if elected.

Here’s a look at his bio:

The Aurora theater shooting trial

Brauchler drew international notoriety as the prosecutor of James Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured 70 more in a shooting rampage in an Aurora movie theater in 2012. He unsuccessfully pursued the death penalty against Holmes.

Since then, Brauchler says he has been traveling the world speaking about the case.

“There’s a demand nationwide, worldwide frankly, to learn lessons from that case,” he said. “I have spoken about this case all over the planet.”

Brauchler faced criticism during the trial, first for pursuing the death penalty — which came after the gunman offered to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison — and second, from the gunman’s defense team, for his handling of issues surrounding the gunman’s mental health.

Brauchler presented the gunman’s actions as the result of evil and not solely because of mental illness, as defense attorneys argued. Two court-appointed psychiatrists agreed that mental illness played at least some role in the attack.

“One obvious explanation,” the defense team wrote of Brauchler’s approach, in a law review article following the trial, “is that it is more justifiable to seek the death penalty against a person who is viewed as ‘evil’ rather than against someone who is legitimately sick, and the elected district attorney’s attempts to advance this narrative in the media could be perceived as an effort to defend his decision to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to push the case to trial[.]”

Brauchler says he never contested that Holmes was mentally ill and that he conceded as much to the jury in the case. However, he said during trial that the attack was a product of far more than mental illness and that evil and mental illness are not mutually exclusive.

MORE: Get to know Phil Weiser, the Democratic candidate for Colorado attorney general

During the trial, Brauchler also faced controversy for accidentally sending a tweet during proceedings even though a judge had barred such digital posts. He said the message he posted was meant to be a text-message response.  

Defense attorneys said it was crass for a prosecutor to be tweeting or texting during a death-penalty trial.

Brauchler says he has worked hard to be as transparent as possible with the community about the case.

“Whether it’s an (homeowners association) or a retirement community, I promised people in this jurisdiction — because I couldn’t  talk about it during the case — when it’s over I’ll come and talk about it,” he said. “Anybody who wants to hear about it. Because I thought it was such a commitment from the community and taxpayers.”

On the Trump-Access Hollywood tape

Brauchler remembers being in the kitchen with his then 13-year-old daughter in 2016 when the news about Access Hollywood’s  Donald Trump tape broke. In the 2005 recording, Trump bragged about getting away with grabbing women’s genitals because he is famous.

“I remember my daughter was standing there and she turns to me and says, ‘Dad, why would he say something like that?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. It’s wrong and if your brother said anything like that I would discipline him.’”

She then asked Brauchler about why he would vote for someone like that.

“I said, ‘Look, he’s wrong on that and he’ll be wrong on other things but my support of him isn’t based on him being perfect. My support of him, in this election cycle, isn’t based on him aligning with every single thing that I believe in. In large part my support is also based upon what the alternative is. The alternative is so much worse, this year, for the United States.’”

Brauchler added: “That is a very nuanced conversation that you might have with someone who is in their 30s or 40s. It is very difficult to have that conversation with a 13-year-old girl who is growing up in a world where she can do anything she wants to do if she sets her mind to it. The barriers for women are being reduced every single day. I think when she hears a story like that it affects her in a way that it probably doesn’t effect a guy in his 40s.”

Brauchler voted for Trump in 2016 and says he doesn’t regret it. “I don’t see us being in a better position”  under Hillary Clinton.

More on Brauchler’s background

Brauchler was elected to be the 18th Judicial District’s attorney in 2012 after serving as a criminal and civil litigator for the law firm Feldmann Nagel LLC.

He also was a deputy Jefferson County District Attorney from 1995 to 2001 and from 2002 to 2006.

Brauchler has served as a military lawyer in various capacities since 2001. He is currently a colonel in the Colorado Army National Guard. He deployed to Iraq in 2011 as chief of military justice for the 4th Infantry Division.

Brauchler has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado School of Law (where he is an alumni) and at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver.

Biggest legal issues facing Colorado

“It would be unfair to try and pick just one,” Brauchler said.

He said that no one can “overvalue the legal issues surrounding water” and how Colorado is vulnerable to states downstream. If there were a call for a change in the interstate compacts barring the overused water source that would surely make water a forefront legal problem for the state.

“If that happened, that would become the single biggest issue in Colorado overnight,” Brauchler said.

Brauchler also is concerned about marijuana regulation in Colorado as a legal issue. He voted against the legalization of recreational pot, but says he would defend the state’s laws if they came under federal challenge.

That doesn’t mean he thinks everything around legal weed has gone smoothly, however.

“You cannot deny that this regulated-marijuana world that we live in right now has created some significant challenges for communities,” he said. “And we haven’t figured it out yet. I think part of the problem is we still have people on each side of the issue who think its an all or nothing proposition.”

18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, the Republican candidate for Colorado attorney general. speaks at a debate with Democrat Phil Weiser in Denver. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

When he’s not working

“I had someone ask me once on this campaign trail, ‘What are your hobbies?’ What the hell is a hobby, man?” Brauchler said. “I’m a father of four, DA for the largest jurisdiction in the state, Colorado guardsman who gets sent down to places like Huerfano County when they catch on fire and oh, by the way, I’ve added a statewide race to this.”

He added: “I haven’t had free time in over a decade.”

In a recent debate with Weiser, Brauchler talked about how campaigning to be Colorado’s attorney general has taken a toll on his family.

MORE: Read more Colorado Sun voter guide stories ahead of the 2018 election.

Brauchler says one tradition that he keeps with his kids, despite the busy schedule, is going to see every superhero and blockbuster movies the weekend they come out.

“In fact, I took them out of school early to go see the latest installment of Star Wars,” he said.

Brauchler is also obsessed with In-N-Out burger. During a summer trip to California he ate dinner there one night and lunch there the next day.

His brief candidacy for governor

Brauchler’s major foray into the political scene came in 2013 when Gov. John Hickenlooper announced he was issuing an indefinite reprieve on the death sentence of Nathan Dunlap.

Then relatively new to the 18th Judicial District attorney’s job, he gave a speech on the state Capitol’s steps that started real rumblings about his political future.

YouTube video

There was talk that Brauchler would challenge Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, in 2016 — but he decided not to run.

Brauchler announced in April 2017 that intended to seek the Republican nomination to become Colorado’s next governor in this year’s election. However, when current GOP Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said she wouldn’t seek another term, choosing to run for governor instead, Brauchler jumped in to become the Republican candidate for attorney general.

In doing so, he cleared a field that was rumored to include U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor, and Assistant state House Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial.

He said he has no regrets about switching races.

“But it’s flattering to hear how many people when I go around say something like ‘Hey, I have a bone to pick with you: You were my guy for governor,’ or, ‘I wish you were still in the race,’ ” he said.  “This position I’m running for right now is just far too important.”

A path to victory

Brauchler has a name recognition advantage over Weiser, but he knows that it’s a tough year for the GOP.

(See above: “The mood of the electorate under this particular president, in this particular midterm, is challenging,” Brauchler said.)

If the attacks leveled against Weiser by Brauchler and his backers over at the Republican Attorneys General Association stick, then Brauchler will be in good shape. RAGA has spent nearly $3 million in the race so far. 

Rising Sun

More reading on Brauchler

Theater shooting trial could be defining case for DA George Brauchler — Denver Post, April 25, 2015

Meet Republicans’ Potential Colorado Senate Candidate: The Aurora Theater ProsecutorThe Atlantic, Sept. 2, 2015

All Eyes On Colorado’s Attorney General Race: Brauchler & Weiser — CBS4, July 25, 2018

Retired Army colonel sentenced to eight years for DUI crash that killed Colorado trooper — Denver Post, June 28, 2016

    This story was updated at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, to add more context to the criticism George Brauchler faced around his handling of the Aurora theater shooting gunman’s mental health  during trial.

    Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....