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Politics and Government

Ken Buck wins Colorado GOP chairman race and endorses recall elections for Democrats

The Colorado congressman who once declared "the Republican Party is dead" narrowly won the four-way race after a rival withdrew and endorsed him on the fourth ballot

Ken Buck, the newly elected state Republican Party chairman, poses with Vera Ortegon, middle, and George Leing, right, after winning the party election March 30, 2019. Ortegon and Leing are the states Republican National Committee members. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)
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ENGLEWOOD — The newly elected chairman of the Republican Party in Colorado endorsed recall efforts against Democrats in a strident speech in which he vowed to “let the world know this is not a blue state.”

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck won the four-way contest to lead the party after three dramatic deadlocked votes that mostly favored rival state Rep. Susan Beckman.

But then a third candidate withdrew her candidacy ahead of the fourth ballot and endorsed Buck, giving him a narrow 51 percent victory.

MORE: Colorado GOP looks to rebuild ahead of 2020 election, but first the party must reconcile the past

In his address to party officials and activists, Buck said the 2020 campaign to reelect President Donald Trump is the contrast of  “freedom-loving Republicans versus socialist corrupt Democrats.”

The Windsor lawmaker took aim at the Democratic agenda at the state Capitol, saying if Democrats “want to take our guns … come and take them. And if you get them, it will be out of my cold, dead hands.”

The remark — which drew whistles and applause — came two days after the Democratic-led state Senate approved a red flag gun bill that allows judges to temporarily seize firearms from people who are deemed a significant risk. The bill needs a final vote in the House before it goes to Gov. Jared Polis.

He also pointed to legislation approved in the state House on Friday to impose new regulations on oil and gas drilling in Colorado, saying it would hurt the industry and adding his support for recall elections.

“We need to teach them how to spell r-e-c-a-l-l,” he said.

Republicans are discussing efforts to oust at least five Democratic lawmakers, including Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, and activists even support a long-shot bid to remove Polis from office.

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The former party chairman, Jeff Hays, decided not to seek another term after the 2018 election in which Democrats took complete control of state government.

Buck, who once declared “the Republican Party is dead,” entered the election with a late endorsement from U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, the state’s top elected Republican, but still struggled to defeat Beckman, who had support from a good portion of the party’s state lawmakers who attended the meeting in Englewood.

Gardner told party members that Buck would make Hillary Clinton “the last Democrat to win Colorado.”

“That’s what’s going to happen because Ken Buck is a fighter, and we need him — I need him,” said Gardner, who faces a tough reelection battle in 2020.

Buck said he will keep his 4th District congressional seat and focus primarily on fundraising. He plans to appoint former state party Chairman Steve House as an unpaid chief executive officer to manage the day-to-day operations. Buck also promised to forgo a salary.

His dual role became a point of contention in the race. Beckman said she would resign her legislative seat if she won, arguing the job is “not a position for an absentee leader.”

Sherrie Gibson withdraws her candidacy and backs Ken Buck for state Republican Party chairman after a deadlocked third ballot on March 30, 2019. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)

The third top candidate, Sherrie Gibson, the African American former party vice-chairwoman, emphasized the party’s need to diversify, saying the GOP “is not a party of just old men.”

Moments later, she endorsed Buck, 60, saying he’s the best for the job. She exclaimed and gave Buck a huge hug at the side of the stage as the vote results were posted giving him the majority on the fourth vote. Beckman finished with 48 percent.

The fourth candidate, Steve Barlock, a prominent Trump supporter, received a fraction of the vote.

The vote exposed the deep divisions in the state Republican Party, and Buck said he will work to repair the hard-feelings.

“The No. 1 job is to unite folks,” he said in an interview after the vote. “Right now, I’m going to talk to as many people … and just let them know we are one party and we are going to move forward as one party.”

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