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John Kellner, 18th Judicial district attorney, makes a point during a news conference in Centennial, Colorado, on June 10, 2021. Three agencies—the district attorney's office, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations—held the news conference to explain the major grand jury indictments issued in a money-laundering scheme involving the distribution of drugs by major cartels and how the money earned was then laundered through contacts in China. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

John Kellner, the 18th Judicial District attorney, on Thursday became the first Republican to declare their candidacy to challenge Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, in November.

Kellner announced his bid in a Colorado Politics opinion piece focusing heavily on crime, an issue GOP candidates across the state are attacking Democrats over.

“Right now Colorado faces its highest rate of violent crime in 25 years,” Kellner wrote. “To get out from this historic crime tsunami, we need bold leadership to turn the tide.”

Colorado’s attorney general, who serves as the top attorney for the state, has limited jurisdiction in criminal cases. The attorney general’s office mostly investigates civil matters, like fraud.

Kellner is still fairly new to his current job as top prosecutor for the most populous judicial district in the state, which comprises Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. Kellner narrowly defeated Democrat Amy Padden in 2020.

The prosecutor earned his law degree from the University of Colorado and then served in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years. 

Kellner was a prosecutor in the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office before joining the 18th judicial district in 2012 to lead the office’s Cold Case Unit.

Weiser was elected to his first term in 2018, beating Kellner’s predecessor, former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, a Republican, by 7 percentage points. 

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser speaks at a news conference in Denver, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021.. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Weiser began the year with $2.3 million in his campaign account. That’s almost as much as the nearly $2.9 million he spent to beat Brauchler four years ago. 

Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.

Daniel Ducassi is a former Colorado Sun staff writer.