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U.S. Senate candidate Ron Hanks, a Republican, speaks during the GOP Assembly at the World Arena on Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

COLORADO SPRINGS — State Rep. Ron Hanks on Saturday beat out five other candidates to secure the top line on the Republican primary ballot for U.S. Senate as delegates at the Colorado GOP’s state assembly embraced his spread of baseless claims about the 2020 presidential election being stolen. 

Hanks secured 38.96% of the delegate vote at the state assembly, which was held at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs.

Hanks, who lives in Fremont County, joins Joe O’Dea, who owns a construction company, on the June 28 primary ballot. O’Dea collected petition signatures to secure his spot in the primary and did not go through the state assembly.

Hanks was flanked by embattled Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a Republican, as he delivered his assembly speech. Peters also baselessly questions the results of the 2020 presidential election and is under indictment in a breach of her county’s election system.

“I fully expected Donald Trump to win in 2020 — and he did,” Hanks said in his assembly speech. “When we saw what we saw on election night in 2020, it changed everything. Just like the changes we felt after 9/11.”

Hanks was also in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, to attend Trump’s rally ahead of the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol.

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Deborah Flora, a former talk radio host, narrowly missed making the ballot. She received 29% of the delegate vote, just shy of the 30% she needed to advance to the primary. About 3,700 delegates cast ballots on Saturday.

Tammi Fleming and Jenny Brady, delegates from Douglas County, were disappointed by the result. Both wore shirts promoting Flora and red-white-and-blue earrings dangled from their ears.

It was surprising and sad to see their preferred candidate come so close, they said.“She’s a real person, she’s one of us. She has been fighting for our kids and our rights for years and years. She was at our school board fighting for us,” Brady said.

Former Olympian Eli Bremer came in third place with 15% of the vote, followed by Gino Campana, a former Fort Collins city councilman, who received 11% of the vote.

Colorado Christian University Professor Greg Moore and businessman Peter Yu each secured just 3% of the delegate vote.

The large field of Republican candidates seeking ballot access through the state assembly left many delegates unsure of who to back heading into Saturday.

“There’s so many running,” said Neil Fletcher, a farmer and rancher from Holly. “We’ll see what they have to say today. This is my seventh or eighth convention and this is probably the most open I’ve ever seen it.”

GOP Assembly at the World Arena on Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Campana spent at least $1,300 per each of his 401 votes, based on the $524,000 he put in his campaign in 2021. It’s likely he poured more money into the contest in the first three months of this year, but quarterly campaign finance disclosures aren’t released until next week.

By contrast, Hanks put $12,000 of his own money into his campaign last fall, and raised another $16,000.

But despite his lack of spending, Hanks had plenty of support on Saturday.

Kevin Wright, an Arapahoe County delegate, leaned against a wall outside the arena, holding a sign that said “RON HANKS U.S. SENATE.” Wright said Hanks inspired him to become a delegate, citing Hanks’ military service and how the candidate’s “love for America is as strong as my love for America.” 

That “really gave me inspiration,” Wright said.

Mark Kray, a Republican delegate from Arapahoe County, said he hadn’t made up his mind before votes were cast but was leaning toward supporting Hanks because of his experience in politics and because he thought he was the most electable.

“He has experience in politics. Flora here” — he said, gesturing at a Flora sign — “I don’t even know where she comes from. Has she ever held public office? What has she done?”

But other Republicans are nervous about how Hanks’ candidacy paints Colorado Republicans.

A Ron Hanks delegate at the Colorado GOP assembly.

“I am not voting for someone who will take our party into oblivion, which is Ron Hanks,” said Republican delegate Wayne Williams, a Colorado Springs city councilman and former Colorado secretary of state, before the ballots were cast.

Williams said Hanks’ win at assembly on Saturday represents a victory for Bennet.

Hanks also came under fire last year at the Colorado Capitol for joking about lynching and then saying an 18th century policy designating a slave as three-fifths of a person “was not impugning anybody’s humanity.” He is also suing Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold over the state’s election system, a legal action Griswold says is frivolous.

Hanks isn’t the only 2020 election denier Republican delegates supported on Saturday. They also placed Peters, who is running for secretary of state, on the ballot, as well as gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez, who vowed to pardon Peters if he’s elected and she’s convicted.

Whoever wins the U.S. Senate primary will take on Democrat Michael Bennet in November. Bennet is seeking a third full term in Congress. Election prognosticators expect him to win, but think his reelection campaign will be more difficult given the national backlash against Democrats.

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...

Shannon Najmabadi covered rural affairs and the rural economy for The Colorado Sun from 2021-2023. Email: Twitter: @ShannonNajma

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette