If you haven’t noticed — and maybe you haven’t because there has been so little TV advertising — Colorado is just weeks away from the critical June 28 primary elections.
And I’m here to report that, according to the political gurus I talk to, no one has any real idea what the hell is going to happen.
Here’s what we do know.
We know the ballots are in the mail. And despite what anyone says, we know that mail balloting is actually safe. Sun reporter Jesse Paul noted that even state Rep. Ron Hanks — the U.S. Senate candidate who, as a state legislator, proposed a bill this year that would have basically ended mail-in voting in Colorado — has often voted by mail himself. So, for that matter, has Donald Trump.
We know, too, that for the most part, the Democratic primaries — loaded down with incumbents as they are — will be one big yawn.
Meanwhile, we should know that for Colorado Republicans, who were wiped out in the 2020 election and have exactly zero incumbents running in statewide races, this may be the most important election cycle in approximately forever.
In less than 20 years, Colorado has transitioned from a bright-red state to a purple state to a getting-bluer-every-year state. This is a year when Colorado Republicans have a reasonable chance to reclaim their place as a viable party in the state. But they also have a chance — a real chance — not to.
In recent years, we’ve seen Republicans make a number of what we might call poor decisions, or has everyone already forgotten Dan Maes and Darryl Glenn? The question in the upcoming primary is this: Will they do any better this time around?
We’ll know more after June 28. And the answer almost certainly depends on — you guessed it — Donald Trump.
In virtually every statewide race, we have at least one candidate running as a Trumpist, still insisting that the 2020 election was rigged. And in virtually every race we have at least one Republican who either says the election wasn’t rigged or refuses to say (see: Ganahl, Heidi) much of anything at all.
Every poll shows that a great majority of Republicans still say they believe Democrats stole the 2020 election. But how many of them really believe it and how many simply say it because that’s what Republicans feel obligated to say? I can’t begin to tell you.
And we can go a little deeper and ask this: Even for those who somehow still believe that election integrity should be on the ballot, how many will make that the determining factor in deciding who gets their vote?
If you’re looking around the country for help, you won’t find much. In the races that Trump — who talks of nothing else but 2020 — has most closely insinuated himself, he has won some and, as they say, lost some. In Georgia, Trump was determined to beat Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for their insistence that, despite a close vote in Georgia in 2020, Trump actually lost.
As we know, Trump tends to hold a grudge. So he recruited former Sen. David Perdue to run against Kemp and Rep. Jody Hice to run against Raffensperger. Trump’s picks not only lost, they were crushed. Kemp won by 50 points, And Raffensperger, whom Trump infamously asked to “find” him the needed votes to win in Georgia, won by nearly 20. A lot of people saw those results and wondered whether Trump’s hold on the party has diminished.
And yet, in Pennsylvania, another swing state that Trump lost but insists he won, Republicans nominated election denier and far-right candidate Doug Mastriano to run for governor. He probably has little chance of winning in November. He won the primary on the basis of Trump’s support and on the fact that in Pennsylvania, the governor names the secretary of state. And Trump’s pick for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, Dr. Mehmet Oz, was officially named the winner on Friday.
And so it goes from state to state, and now we can ask, whither Colorado?
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In a normal midterm election, the party out of power — that would be the GOP, in Colorado and nationally — traditionally gains seats, sometimes a lot of seats, sometimes so many seats that the sitting president calls the voter rejection a “shellacking.”
Colorado Republicans aren’t looking necessarily to get to shellacking level. They just want to get back in the game.
In the November elections, Republicans will be running on runaway inflation, on empty shelves where baby formula should be, on mask mandates, on Joe Biden’s miserable approval ratings. What the GOP establishment doesn’t want is a referendum on the 2020 election, which they’ve already lost once.
In Colorado, the last time a Republican won a top-of-the-ballot race was Cory Gardner’s upset of Sen. Mark Udall in 2014. In fact, that has been the only top-of-the-ballot win for Republicans in the state since 2004. And we saw what happened to Gardner last election.
The biggest tell in June might be how national embarrassment Tina Peters fares. As everyone knows, she is the Mesa County clerk and recorder who faces multiple indictments for violating all manner of security protocols in trying to prove that the Colorado election was rigged. Her biggest booster, of course, is Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy, who may have violated state election ethics rules in contributing what he called as much as $800,000 to Peters’ defense fund.
If Peters beats former Jefferson County clerk Pam Anderson — there’s a third candidate, Mike O’Donnell, who is best known for being from Australia — in the secretary of state race, that should tell us everything. Anderson, a moderate in the Republican world, is running on the basis that Colorado’s elections are safe and fair, because, you know, they are safe and fair, as incumbent Secretary of State Jena Griswold points out at every turn.
In the GOP governor’s race, we have Ganahl, who is favored despite her, uh, strategy of refusing to talk to much of the state’s media, against Greg Lopez, who has gone full crazy. He has not only promised to pardon Peters if he is elected and she is convicted, he has also proposed an end to one-person-one-vote elections in Colorado. Jared Polis is a solid favorite no matter who wins.
In the Senate race, Ron Hanks may be the state’s most persistent election denier. He was in Washington on January 6, although there’s no evidence that he stormed the Capitol. He’s also all in on anti-abortion, saying he believes there should be no exception for rape, incest or even the health of the mother. Sen. Michael Bennet, whose race is rated likely Democrat, has been rooting nonstop for Hanks. In a recent campaign email, Bennet reminded us that Hanks won the straw vote after the last GOP debate.
Hanks has raised virtually no money despite the fact that he’s running against Joe O’Dea, a political neophyte but also a construction business owner with plenty of money to spend in the race. Anyone looks moderate compared to Hanks, but O’Dea goes a few steps beyond that.
O’Dea is not a climate-change denier— not that you’d call him a Green. He says he doesn’t believe the 2020 election was rigged. And though he says he’s anti-abortion, he also says he doesn’t think Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Of course, it’s not that simple. O’Dea said he would vote against a bill in Congress that would codify Roe v. Wade because of his objection to late-term abortions and a few other issues.
I could go on — there are many other races in the state, including the one in the new 8th Congressional District — but you get the idea. It’s a long way until November and much can change, but clearly Republicans are optimistic. At this point, the state Senate looks like a tossup. The 8th CD might be, too.
Democrats are rooting hard for Peters, Hanks and Lopez to win in their primary races because it’s unlikely any of them could win in November.
But do people voting in the Colorado GOP primaries know that? In virtually every major race in Colorado that doesn’t feature Lauren Boebert or Ken Buck, Democrats have easily outraised Republicans. The national results have shown some Trump weakness for election deniers, but the results have also been all over the place. And, if you think public polling might help, I don’t remember having seen any in Colorado.
So much is on the line, but I’m still trying to figure out, come June 28, where the lines will be drawn. At this point, the betting line is that it could go any which way.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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