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U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor. (Handout)

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, who once declared “the Republican Party is dead,” is making a run to lead the Colorado state GOP.

The Windsor lawmaker’s candidacy — first reported Tuesday in The Unaffiliated, the Colorado Sun’s political newsletter — is notable for what it represents.

Buck is considered a fierce conservative and a darling of the state party’s rightward activists, even though he drew criticism from the White House in 2017 for his vote against the party’s budget bill.

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor. (Handout)

In an editorial, Buck criticized the party’s budget bill, and declared the Republican Party dead, saying it had abandoned its principles. In its place, he wrote are “the lobbyists, the special interests, the weak-kneed senators, everyone who sees the federal government as a diamond mine to be exploited for their personal riches.”

A spokeswoman for Buck did not reply to repeated messages left by The Sun since Monday, but Buck is calling prominent Republican strategists to gather support ahead of the March 30 vote. Buck would not necessarily have to resign his congressional seat if he wins.

The current chairman, Jeff Hays, is not seeking another term after the party endured humiliating losses in the 2018 election that gave Democrats the most power in Colorado since 1936, according to an analysis by The Sun.

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The race is expected to pit establishment Republicans against loyalists to President Donald Trump, making it a test for how the party views the White House. And the next leader will oversee the party as U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner defends his seat in the 2020 election.

The contest is expected to draw numerous other candidates with a half-dozen names floating as potential rivals. State Rep. Susan Beckman, R-Littleton, is one of the more prominent announced candidates.

In an interview with The Sun on Monday, she called herself a “steady conservative” and said she would “fight the good fight of conservative governance.”

Beckman touted backing from other Republican lawmakers in the state House. The second-term lawmaker said she would step down from her position if chosen as the party’s new leader because it’s a full-time job.

The party chairman is a paid position, and the salary is determined by the party’s governing committee. The salary for a member of the U.S. House is $174,000 and the pay for Colorado House lawmakers is $40,242.

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.