Coffman’s departure opens up Colorado’s U.S. Senate race
“Our team doesn’t have a bench. We barely have a folding chair.” – Jon Caldara
The announcement Monday that Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman would not seek the 2016 Republican nomination for U.S. Senate opens up possibilities for Republicans statewide.
Among them: Colorado Senate President Pro Tem Ellen Roberts, R-Durango. Roberts told The Colorado Independent Monday that she would not have run against Coffman in a primary “as he would have been a great U.S. Senate candidate.” But now that he’s not running?
Roberts is coy about whether she’s in the race. “I haven’t made any decision on what my future plans might be,” she said, citing constituent work back in her district and summer legislative committees.
Roberts is one of at least a half-dozen names rising to the top now that Coffman is staying in the House.
Coffman’s wife, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, was mentioned back in January by Roll Call as a possible Senate candidate. Her executive assistant said this morning she did not know if the Attorney General was still interested in running, given her new responsibilities.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) lists five candidates who have already formally declared. That includes current U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colorado.
Three Republicans from Colorado Springs are on the list: Darryl Glenn, Charles Ehler and Michael Kinlaw. Glenn is an El Paso County Commissioner, and he’s African-American, providing the state GOP with an opportunity to reach out to minorities. That’s an area where some Republican candidates have fared poorly in the past several election cycles.
Glenn told The Independent, Monday, that he respects Coffman but that the announcement will have little effect for him. “I believe I have the best chance to win the election,” he said.
Charles Ehler said Tuesday that Coffman’s decision was not unanticipated. He believes there could be at least four Republicans vying for the primary next year, several with statewide name recognition. Ehler acknowledges that he lacks that name recognition outside of the Pikes Peak region and the Front Range, but says he will work to change that in the coming year.
Michael Kinlaw, once called the “Ted Cruz of Colorado,” points out that he is traveling the state for his campaign as the only proponent of open-carry handgun laws. In February, Kinlaw, who has more than 50,000 followers on his Twitter feed, tweeted a Nazi flag as a criticism of the U.S. State Department.
Tom Janich of Adams County also plans to run, although he has not yet filed his intention with the FEC. Janich is a former member of the school board in Adams County and cites 20 years of public service in a variety of venues.
State GOP Chair Steve House is optimistic about his party’s chances against Bennet next year. He told The Independent that Coffman would have been a strong candidate, as a hard worker with a proven reputation.
But Coffman’s decision leaves the GOP with a lot of options. And House says his reason for optimism is who his party will face next year: a senator with a lot of explaining to do about his record in Washington. Bennet has a record to run on that isn’t so great, House said, including support for Obamacare and on water rights.
Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute also believes the 2016 election is an opportunity for Republicans. But the party lacks a “bench” that would produce another Cory Gardner, he said this week.
“What a tough decision for Mike,” he said Monday. “He would have had a good shot of beating Bennet.” Caldara said “Ivy League” Bennet has never clicked with Coloradans. But Coffman made the bigger call and will protect a congressional seat that only he could keep, Caldara added.
The problem with the GOP is that “our team doesn’t have a bench. We barely have a folding chair,” Caldara said. The Cory Gardners are a “very rare breed of people” who can win a primary and still be likable to unaffiliated voters, he said. A lot of great Republicans could be interested, he added, but the savagery of the primaries will scare some of them off.
Roberts would be a good candidate as a pro-choice Republican, Caldara said, but only if she could survive the primary.
Another name Caldara mentioned is state Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. He would be a formidable candidate, should he choose to run. “He’s funny, likable and has that charm that Gardner has,” Caldara said, but added that Cadman would need to boost his name recognition statewide.
Congressman Ken Buck, R-Colorado, also comes up on some lists. Caldara indicated Buck would have to avoid some of the foibles of 2010 if he were to get into the 2016 Senate race.
The Independent has also reached out to several other Republicans mentioned as possible candidates: District Attorney George Brauchler of the 18th Judicial District; Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Colorado; and state Sen Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs. We will update this story when they respond.
The FEC also lists Gary Swing as a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016. Swing has run for Congress in the past as a Green Party candidate. In 2012, he stated on his website that if elected he would seek to abolish the U.S. Senate. A Green Party spokesman said Tuesday that he believes Swing plans to run as an independent in 2016.
Photo credit: Shehal Joseph, Creative Commons, Flickr.
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