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Nicolais: Recall efforts exposed an existential crisis for Colorado Republicans

With multiple recalls collapsing over the past two weeks, the Colorado GOP ground game and credibility have taken major hits

Following a disastrous week for recall efforts, the Colorado Republican Party finds itself not only in disarray, but in existential crisis.

Over the next year the party’s actions will determine if it will have any relevant future in Colorado politics.

Recall efforts to date have only laid bare the utter electoral weakness the Republican Party finds itself in after years of political infighting have left it politically emaciated.

Mario Nicolais

It’s one thing to fall short of a record 631,266 signatures necessary to remove Gov. Jared Polis, but another to admit an inability to collect 11,304 in one state Senate district.

Adding self-imposed insult to self-inflicted injury, the recall efforts refuse to allow any third-party verification of the number of signatures actually gathered. Instead, organizers have made themselves into the political equivalent of a blowfish, inflating their size many times over hoping nobody will notice how vulnerable the party has become.

Detractors will point out that none of the recall efforts originated with the party. That line strains credulity.

Rep. Ken Buck took the reins of the Colorado Republican Party promising to “teach [Democrats] how to spell r-e-c-a-l-l.” Vice Chair Kristi Burton Brown initiated the recall against state Sen. Tom Sullivan. Former state House candidate Nancy Pallozzi targeted her historical nemesis state Sen. Brittany Pettersen.

Heading into a critical 2020 election year, the Colorado Republicans spent the past six months demonstrating an ineffectual ground game and undermining their own credibility. That doesn’t bode well for President Trump’s reelection efforts or Sen. Cory Gardner’s slim hope of hanging onto the seat he narrowly won in 2014.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

More important than either election, the Colorado Republican Party’s performance may determine what role it plays in the future of our state.

Despite the efforts of both Republicans in denial and media pundits hoping for a better horse race, Colorado is officially a blue state. The only remaining question is whether Colorado Republicans remain relevant like their cousins in Nevada and New Mexico or if they dissipate into obscurity like Republicans in Oregon and California.

Unfavorable demographic trends, party infighting and poor candidates have plagued Colorado Republicans for at least a decade. While Republicans across the country enjoyed a cresting wave in 2010, the Colorado GOP nominated Dan Maes and watched helplessly as Tom Tancredo jumped ship to create a three-way gubernatorial contest that swept John Hickenlooper into office.

Had Maes failed to top 10% in the polls — he managed 11.1% — the Colorado Republican Party would have been relegated to the status of minor party under Colorado election laws. In retrospect, that may have been a blessing in disguise. 

At least the Colorado GOP would have been forced to regroup, rebuild and recognize the darkening political environment. Instead, the party limped through the past decade alternately capturing razor-thin margins in one legislative party and ceding all governing power to Democratic trifectas.

The 2018 election broke the dam. Democrats swept to power at all levels. The only office Republicans didn’t lose were those that weren’t on the ballot. But that means they will be in 2020.

If Colorado Republicans cannot make a massive about face and put on a much better showing next year than they did in recalls this year, Trump will likely lose by double-digits and Gardner will be pulled down with him. That would make Colorado as blue as any state in the nation, especially if Democrats expand on their already wide margin in the state legislature.

Most of the recalls initiated this year were doomed to failure from the start. But if there is a silver-lining to be had, maybe enough activists and party officials will finally see the need to try something new.

If not, they should prepare for a long trip into the wilderness from which they may never return.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare, and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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