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Dave Williams speaks during a Colorado GOP state central meeting on March 11, 2023, in Loveland where he was elected chairman of the party. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

LOVELAND — Former state Rep. Dave Williams, a 2020 election denier, will lead the Colorado GOP for the next two years after beating out six other contenders in three rounds of voting Saturday by the party’s state central committee.

Williams, of Colorado Springs, will succeed Kristi Burton Brown, who decided to step aside after two years as GOP chair, including a 2022 election with disastrous results for the party.

Indicted former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who was also running Saturday to be Colorado GOP chair, threw her support to Williams after the second round of voting, making a public announcement from the floor that earned a rebuke from Burton Brown for violating party bylaws.

Williams, who lost a GOP primary to U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn last year after unsuccessfully trying to get his name listed on the ballot as Dave “Let’s Go Brandon” Williams, gave a fiery speech defending former President Donald Trump. Like Peters, Williams believes Trump won the 2020 election, despite no verified evidence of fraud or malfeasance that would have overturned the results.

“We are the party that elected Donald J. Trump and we are not going to apologize,” Williams said. “It’s time to go on the attack. So why don’t we go on offense, offense, offense!”

Williams beat Erik Aadland with 55% of the vote to Aadland’s 45% in the final round of voting.

Aadland lost the 7th Congressional contest in 2022 by 15 percentage points to Democratic U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen.

About 20 votes separated Aadland and Williams two in the first two rounds. 

Aadland gave a more conciliatory speech in trying to persuade hundreds of central committee members to vote for him.

“I need you to come together with me in this common cause there’s more that unites us than divides us,” Aadland said. “The house is burning, we’ve got to put the fire out.”

But Aadland and Williams were among the six of seven candidates for the top job who either denied that Democratic President Joe Biden won the 2020 election or questioned the outcome of the contest. 

Williams pledged Saturday that the party will go to court to prevent unaffiliated voters from participating in the GOP primary election. A similar effort by individual Republicans failed in federal court in 2022.

“Right now there are efforts to eliminate the caucus by the consultant class and a wealthy unaffiliated millionaire who hates our party,” he said, referencing Kent Thiry, the former DaVita CEO.

Williams also criticized past party leadership.

The podium of the Colorado Republican Party stands bare following a watch party of 2022 candidates at the Doubletree By Hilton in Greenwood Village. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

“Our party doesn’t have a brand problem,” he said. “Our party has a problem with feckless leaders who are ashamed of you and ashamed of our conservative values.”

Williams, who often stoked controversy in the legislature and had a falling out with Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign officials in Colorado, said he’ll be reorganizing the state party staff.

“Everyone’s going to have to go through a rehiring process, they’re going to resubmit their applications,” he said.

Brown presided over a 2022 election in which Democrats decisively retained control of a U.S. Senate seat and all four statewide elected offices. They also won two open congressional seats and expanded their majorities in the state House and Senate. They even forced a recount in U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert’s heavily Republican district, where she won by only 546 votes. 

The GOP won’t have another real shot at power in the state until 2026, when all four statewide offices open up because of term limits and Democratic U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper faces his first reelection bid.

Attendees listen during a Republican State central meeting on March 11, 2023, in Loveland where elections for a chairman, vice-chairman and Secretary of the Colorado Republican State Central Committee were conducted. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The Colorado Republican Party has been shedding voters since Trump won the presidency in 2016. Another 10,000 active voters left the GOP from Nov. 1 through Feb. 1. Democrats lost about 5,000 voters in that same span, while the number of unaffiliated voters in Colorado increased by about 11,000.

Peters faces trial this summer on felony charges that she orchestrated a breach of Mesa County’s election system. And her GOP leadership platform was based solely on election denial. But she never received more than 10.5% of the vote Saturday.

Only one candidate for chair said they opposed closing the Republican primary to unaffiliated voters, former Mesa County GOP Chair Kevin McCarney. He received the same number of votes as Peters.

“Honor all Republican voices,” he said. “We must be inclusive, not exclusive.”

Saturday followed two long days in the state House and Senate and coincided with a rare Saturday House floor session that prevented House Republicans from participating in the GOP Central Committee meeting.

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, of Windsor, addressed the gathering earlier in the day, but told The Sun he wasn’t taking a position on the chairman’s and wouldn’t vote. He served as party chairman from 2018 to 2020.  All elected officials are part of the central committee, but U.S. Reps. Lauren  Boebert, of Garfield County, and Doug Lamborn, of Colorado Springs, didn’t attend the event. It wasn’t clear if they submitted proxy votes.

Colorado Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll is also stepping aside after six years leading her party. Her successor will be elected on April 1.

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...