What you need to know about Colorado’s U.S. Senate race

What you need to know about Colorado’s U.S. Senate race

Colorado’s 2016 race for a U.S. Senate seat is unusual by our square, swing state’s own standards, and it’s also one with outsized national significance. There are officially 14 candidates running for it, which is a lot. Out of those 14, 11 are Republicans running against each other in the GOP primary, and they’re going about it in two different ways. About half will seek their party’s nomination at the state convention April 9 in Colorado Springs, and the other half are spending money trying to gather enough signatures throughout the state to have their names put directly on the primary ballot in June.

Related: Why this U.S. Senate race in Colorado is so unusual this year

2016 is a presidential election year, which means more voter turnout. Certain seats in the U.S. House and Senate are deemed up for grabs in an attempt by both major political parties to win control of either chamber. Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat is one of them.

Currently, Democrat Michael Bennet holds the seat in question. Republicans control the U.S. Senate. If Democrats can keep Bennet in power in Colorado and pick up a handful of other seats around the country, they could take control of that chamber. Conversely, if Republicans can knock out Bennet in the fall and defend all their other races (or win some elsewhere) they would hold the two U.S. Senate seats in Colorado — Republican Cory Gardner, who beat Democrat Mark Udall in 2014, is Colorado’s junior senator — and they would have a tighter partisan grip on their hold of the U.S. Senate.

The race is also important because of the swingy nature of Colorado, where more than 1 million voters choose not to be members of a political party, and where the numbers of registered Democrats and Republicans are almost evenly split and equal to the number of unaffiliated voters. A third-a third-a third is the political ratio here. So, many political experts generally assume that how goes Colorado, so goes the nation.

That’s why voters can expect tens of millions of outside political dollars to fund campaign commercials, attack ads, mailers, social media blasts and door-knocking efforts in the Senate race. And, though the contest is only a slow burn right now, Coloradans can expect it to become a wild fire by the Nov. 8 general election.

So, who is Michael Bennet, and is he vulnerable?

Bennet, nicknamed “The Accidental Senator” in a 2015 in-depth profile in Denver’s 5280 magazine, is a wealthy, 51-year-old Yale Law School graduate and businessman who previously ran Denver’s public school system, worked as chief of staff to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper when he was Denver’s mayor, and served as a business advisor to conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz.

Bennet was nominated — not elected by voters — to the U.S. Senate in 2008 by then-Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter when President Barack Obama appointed then-U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar to a cabinet position. In 2010, voters chose Bennet to keep the seat during the midterm elections. He beat then-Democratic Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff in a heated primary, and current-GOP Congressman Ken Buck in the general election.

Bennet isn’t a flashy senator, nor a firebrand. It’s likely most Coloradans wouldn’t recognize him if they sat next to him in a craft brewery. When he spoke at this year’s big Democratic Party fundraising dinner in Denver, he made a self-deprecating joke about his public speaking abilities.

But he’s keenly adept at cultivating personal connections. He knows his facts on both domestic and international issues. And his office often is credited for its effectiveness working with other members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. He’s also skilled at raising money, and once chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which fundraises  to help elect other Democrats around the country.

Bennet’s dad was the president of NPR and Wesleyan University. His mother is a Holocaust survivor. His brother James, the longtime editor-in-chief of The Atlantic magazine, is soon to take the helm of The New York Times editorial page. And Bennet’s wife, Susan Daggett, whose environmental law job brought the couple to Colorado, runs an environmental and natural resources institute at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law.

As for policy, Bennet’s campaign says he’s most proud of being a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” which helped write a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The campaign also touts his work helping re-write No Child Left Behind as a bipartisan law that reduces high-stakes testing and restores local control of schools.

Bennet pushed back against the Obama administration when it cancelled NASA’s ORION project, which employs 1,000 Coloradans at 22 companies in the state. He worked with Republicans to allow veterans who live more than 40 miles from a Veterans Administration clinic to receive their care at non-V.A. facilities. He rankled many fellow Democrats — especially environmentalists — by supporting the $8 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline that would stretch from Canada to Texas.

He introduced legislation to prevent government shutdowns with his GOP counterpart Gardner. The close working relationship between Colorado’s two senators is a topic much touted in press releases by Bennet’s office.

Bennet has also introduced legislation to ban members of Congress from ever becoming lobbyists. He wants to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates on corporate money in politics, and pass the DISCLOSE Act to hold dark money groups accountable. He supported Obama’s Iran nuclear arms deal, a move multiple candidates running against him say is the reason they entered the race.

Bennet’s top five campaign contributors include financial and real estate firms, lawyers, leadership PACs, and lobbyists.

Democrats say he’ll hold onto his seat in part because 2016 isn’t expected to be a wave Republican year like 2014, when Gardner rose to power. Bennet also has a lot of money — about $6.7 million — in his campaign coffers so far, and voting demographics in this 2016 presidential election year are likely to help Democrats. Party brass hope that because Bennet’s known as a bipartisan lawmaker, he might be harder to tag as an Obama drone, a Republican campaign bludgeon wielded heavily against Democrat Udall in 2014.

As ammunition against Bennet, Republicans point to his support for Obama’s Iran nuclear arms deal and his backing of Obama’s plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Republicans aim to seize on what they perceive as a lack of enthusiasm for establishment Democrats, which they say is evident by Bernie Sanders’ 19-point win over Hillary Clinton — whom Bennet is backing — at the March 1 caucuses. They expect any further escalation in controversy over Clinton’s classified State Department emails will hurt Bennet in the general election.

Says Colorado Republican Party spokesman Kyle Kohli: “Bennet will be saddled to a candidate this November who was thoroughly rejected by the Democratic base and who Coloradans as a whole gravely distrust.”

How many Senate candidates are there in the race?

Around a dozen. The Denver Post says there are 13. Wikipedia shows 14. But we’re going to go with an official source, the Federal Election Commission. According to the agency that handles campaign filing paperwork, right now there are 11 Republicans, one Democrat (Bennet), one Libertarian (Lily Tang Williams), and a member of the Boiling Frog Party (don’t worry, we’ll get to this last one soon).

Why does Bennet have so many challengers on the Republican side this year?

That depends on who you ask.

Democrats point out that there’s no top-tier Republican candidate running this year like there was in 2014 when Cory Gardner, a popular sitting congressman from Yuma with talent as a retail politician, cleared the field of competitors when he jumped late into the race, in March of 2014. None of the dozen-or-so contenders in the GOP primary has anything close to Gardner’s name recognition.

Congressman Mike Coffman and his wife, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, both decided not to run this year. So did George Brauchler, the district attorney who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooting trial and was being wooed by some Republicans as a challenger to Bennet. That leaves a pack of lesser-known contenders, which Dems like to refer to as a “clown-car.”

“Coloradans know that Michael Bennet works with anyone, from either political party, in order to challenge the status quo in Washington and get things done for Colorado, and that’s why all of the Republicans’ top choices to run for Senate in Colorado said ‘thanks, but no thanks,” says Colorado Democratic Party spokesman Andrew Zucker. “Now they are left with 13 barely-known candidates in the country’s most crowded and divisive primary.”

The Republicans say it’s a sign of Bennet’s vulnerability that so many people are willing to step into the ring to take him on.

OK, so who are all these Republicans?

The diverse field of Republicans seeking to oust Bennet includes right-wingers, moderates, Tea Partiers, outsiders, men, a woman, two blacks and a Latino. The Colorado Independent reached out to all of them for this article. Some have been more accessible than others, and we hope to update this section as we speak with each candidate throughout the campaign.

In alphabetical order, they are:

Robert Blaha

Blaha is a wealthy Colorado Springs businessman who runs a firm called Human Capital Associates that conducts leadership training for businesses. He’s running as an outsider, non-politician with funny TV ads (they include bits about rectal penetration and exploding toilets — seriously). Blaha has plenty of money and can self-fund his campaign if he needs to.

His strategy pivots largely on his “product guarantee” pledge that if he doesn’t complete his campaign promises (cutting the deficit, securing the border and implementing meaningful tax reform) after one term in office, he’ll voluntarily leave the Senate. “That’s not been done, by the way, and the reason that’s not been done is the people who enter into politics don’t want to be held accountable,” he says.

Blaha isn’t seeking the nomination through the traditional caucus-to-convention process. Instead, he’s paying people to gather the signatures he needs to petition directly on the June 28 primary ballot.

Unlike some of his stealthier GOP opponents, Blaha puts his personal cell phone number on his website. The candidate had just gotten off a plane after some time in Washington, D.C, when he spoke to The Independent about his race. What sets him apart from the many others running, he says, is his background in business and years teaching others how to lead organizations, dismantle bureaucracies and eliminate waste. He says he’d stack up that experience next to anyone else in the race.

One issue Blaha likes to underscore is the importance of cybersecurity and how Colorado could be a potential hub for it worldwide.

“Cyber is the next big play,” he says. “We need to go out and really optimize that.”

As a lifelong Republican, he says he’ll support whichever Republican is nominated for president.

He plays up his image as a party outsider.

“I pretty much say what I think, talk from my shoulder to shoulder, eyeball to eyeball.”

Despite Blaha’s self-styling as a non-politician or member of the permanent political class, this isn’t his first foray into politics. In 2012 he ran unsuccessfully against Colorado Springs Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn in the GOP primary — an experience he refers to now as a root canal without novocaine. But he’s taking a “totally different tack this time,” he says. “We put together a world class team.”

When Blaha is around other Republicans who complain about the state of affairs these days, he says he complains right along with them. But, he notes that he always asks one question: What’s your solution?

“If they don’t have one, I’m just done talking.”

Charlie Ehler

A straight-talking, F-bomb-dropping everyman sporting a grey mustache with jeans and a cowboy hat, El Paso County computer programmer Charlie Ehler owns 43 guns and wants the government to “sod off” and “just go away.” The Indiana native’s policy proposals range from ending civil asset forfeiture to upgrading rural Internet services to going back to 1700s-era trade policy.

So what distinguishes him from the GOP pack?

“I’m the one that’s gonna put the federal government back in that box we call a Constitution,” he told The Colorado Independent. Pressed for specifics on how, his answer was: “Determination.”

“We all talk about regulation. We all talk about simplifying the tax code. We all talk about Obamacare. But, you know, free trade isn’t free trade,” he says. So he wants to revert to Alexander Hamilton’s 11-point plan from 1792 that would use tariffs to protect manufacturing.

Ehler, a political newcomer, aims to snag the GOP nomination through the convention-assembly process, and he’s not looking for any big-name endorsements. He’s convinced America’s economy is woefully depressed and that the only reason we don’t see shanty towns and soup lines is because we have social safety nets we didn’t have in the 1930s.

“We’re in a depression. That’s a fact,” he says. “It’s just the federal government can’t bring itself to tell us the proof.”

Ehler says if the GOP presidential nomination comes down to Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, he’ll support Trump.

He doesn’t mince words in his criticisms of Bennet.

“He’s an ideologue and he doesn’t give a fuck about anything but his ideology,” he says.

Ryan Frazier

At a recent candidate forum, Ryan Frazier jokingly thanked the moderator for putting “the two black guys with bald heads” next to each other. He was seated beside El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn who, like Frazier, meets that description.

The former Aurora City Councilman runs a business that “provides strategy development and professional services across the aviation, tourism, energy, education and health care sectors.” He founded a charter school and served as an intelligence analyst in the Navy. He emphasizes his experience in both the public and private sectors.

Frazier describes himself as “pro-job growth, pro-balanced budget, pro-life, pro-second amendment, and pro-worker.”

On the stump, he talks about criminal justice reform and student loan debt just as much as national security. He’s interested in a federal bipartisan reform package introduced by GOP Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley that would allow judges greater discretion when sentencing lower-level drug criminals, recalibrate prison sentences for certain drug offenders, and help ex-inmates re-enter society.

“I just think we’re spending a ton of money to lock people up for nonviolent crimes,” Frazier says. “Frankly, I think a conservative solution is to look at what reforms we can make to our criminal justice system to focus our resources where they are best spent.”

He doesn’t have a strong opinion on the use private prisons in America.

“I’m one of those guys that believes that there’s a place for many things in our society,” he says. “I tend to support public prisons, but I do realize that there are times when private prisons may make sense.”

Frazier aims to petition onto the ballot, not go through the assembly process. Because of that strategy, some county assemblies haven’t let him speak. He brushes off talk that the petition route he’s taking is a sleight to the GOP’s activist base.

“I believe the petition process is a grassroots process,” he says. “It allows me to go and talk to tens of thousands of Republicans right now instead of waiting for the state convention.” His campaign, he said in an interview on March 19, is well positioned in the primary.

On the trail so far, Frazier tries to position himself as someone who appeals not only to Republicans, but also unaffiliated voters and people he calls “soft Democrats.” That starts, he says, with talking about jobs, a strong national defense and national security, secure borders, and repealing Obamacare.

“I’m not the establishment guy,” Frazier told The Independent on a weekend when he was traveling the state speaking at Republican county assemblies. But, he added, “I have enough political experience” to be a U.S. senator.

He declined to say who he supports for president.

Darryl Glenn

El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, a lawyer and former Air Force officer, says this election is all about foreign policy and national security. He touts his electability since he was twice voted onto the Colorado Springs City Council and the El Paso County Commission. And he calls himself a “Christian constitutional conservative.”

What Glenn says sets him apart from the rest of the field, he told The Independent, is his experience working with military base operations and weapons systems as a retired lieutenant colonel who will be ready to lead on day one.

“I have that over everybody else,” he said. “I’ve actually been there and done that.”

Glenn believes Colorado will go red this year, and he’s going through the convention-assembly process for the nomination because, he says, “I don’t like to buy my way onto the ballot.” With more than 10 years in elected office under his belt, he says he’s familiar with balancing budgets and will know what to cut in Washington to ease the nation’s debt.

“I’m not worried about money, which surprises a lot of people,” he says about his campaign. “Our strategy is we’re going through the grassroots campaign.”

Glenn says he’ll shun special interest contributions.

As for his presidential choice, Glenn said he’ll support the eventual nominee: “I don’t have a person that I’m advocating right now.”

Jack Graham

Jack Graham was a quarterback for the Rams before he became athletic director for Colorado State University. In 2010, he sold an insurance business he’d founded. This is his first time running for elected office.

He plans to pour $1 million of his own money in the race, and has hired former Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams, who successfully ran former Sen. Wayne Allard’s campaigns.

What was it that made Graham want to run for U.S. Senate? The Iran nuclear agreement forged by Obama and supported by Bennet “was the tipping point,” he has said.

In his campaign kickoff he talked more about his biography, his star-power campaign team, and his family than he did about his policy positions. In person, Graham similarly sticks to his personal biography.

“I think at this early stage in the process the objective is to get people to know who I am, what my background is,” he said in an interview with The Independent prior to a live televised debate in Denver. Like others, he mentioned that he’s not a career politician who has never held office or run for office. And, just like plenty others, he said he’s focusing on dysfunction and gridlock in Washington. He says the GOP needs to represent individual liberty and freedom.

“We’re in desperate need of a change of leadership and a different way of doing things,” he said. “I think that’s a key theme.”

Graham says his views on issues like immigration and healthcare are different because he avoids hyperbole and “the kind of language that’s expressed just to pick a fight and draw attention to oneself.”

That said, Graham had harsh words for Hillary Clinton, whom he says “sold the Secretary of State’s office, in my opinion, to the highest bidder for the benefit of the Clinton Foundation” and “lied to the families of Benghazi.”

Graham says he’ll support the eventual presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

“I expect something different and expect something better in terms of behavior and respect from our candidates, and I focus on Donald Trump in particular in that regard, and I don’t think Ted Cruz is immune from that,” he said. “I want different and I want better than I have seen.”

Jon Keyser

This guy was supposed to be it — the man who would freeze the rest of the field when he air-dropped into the race in Janurary with dazzling press coverage and a coating of fairy dust from the national Republican establishment.

Keyser is a 34-year-old who in January left his corporate law job at the white-shoe Hogan Lovells firm and resigned his Colorado House seat so he could run for the U.S. Senate.

But rather than his day job or legislative accomplishments, he speaks largely about his “capture-kills” against terrorists as part of special ops missions he conducted for the U.S. military. As Keyser tells it, he took Bennet’s Senate vote supporting the Iran nuclear-arms deal personally because Iranian-backed insurgents killed his friends in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He is backed by former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, former Gov. Bill Owens, and the firebrand former U.S. Congressman Tom Tancredo.

Democrats have trained much of their fire on Kesyer largely because he seems to have access to deep pocketed GOP backers.

The American Democracy Legal fund filed a money-in-politics complaint against Keyser based on a story in The Colorado Statesman that reported he had “received $3 million in commitments of soft money to back his campaign” while attending a Republican Jewish Coalition luncheon in December,” according to The Denver Post. Keyser’s campaign has denied the allegations, and said the complaint shows how scared Democrats are of him. The liberal group ProgressNow also called for an investigation into whether Kesyer campaigned in uniform.

On his website, Keyser calls himself a pro-life, rock-solid conservative, and a conservationist. He worked on an oil rig as a “roughneck” on the Western Slope. “In 2015, Jon stood up against establishment Republicans in the capitol and voted against the largest budget in Colorado history,” the site reads.

Keyser didn’t stun the field in a February candidates’ forum at the University of Denver, and he suffered one high-profile rhetorical blunder there. The nonpartisan fact-checking Colorado affiliate for Politifact dinged the candidate for falsely saying Bennet wants to bring Gitmo terrorists to Colorado.

Having bailed out midway through his first term in the Statehouse, Keyser is likely to face questions about his dedication to elected office.

He’s also likely to face other questions. As a candidate for Colorado House in 2013, Keyser was embroiled in a SNAFU when — in an attempt to critique new all-mail election laws passed by Democrats — he claimed he improperly had been sent two ballots in the mail. It turned out that the second ballot might have been a local election ballot and not a duplicate of the first. He later backtracked, saying he couldn’t remember what was inside and that he’d shredded the ballot. Keyser’s comments clearly were meant to shake public confidence in Colorado’s voting system. They’ve drawn attacks on his gravitas as a statesman.

Michael Kinlaw

“Diapers & politicians should be changed often. Both for the same reason.”

So reads a sign pictured at the top of Michael Kinlaw’s campaign website.

The Colorado Springs resident who moved from Texas has never held elected office, and he got into politics when the Great Recession forced him to close his mortgage company. He boasts that he’s provocative on social media and has “tough stances on immigration, gun rights, federal spending, and foreign policy.” He warns that he does not forget that “illegal aliens are here illegally,” and he says he’ll never change his views for votes.

“The main thing that sets me apart from everyone else that’s running is that I am a Tea Party candidate,” he told The Independent. “Everybody else considers themselves a Republican. I consider myself a conservative. … I am part of the Tea Party movement.”

He backs Sen. Ted Cruz, a fellow Texan, for president.

When Kinlaw moved to Colorado in 2011, he was disappointed to find the state at the time had a Democratic governor and two Democratic U.S. senators.

“I’m from Texas. It’s a red state,” he says. “We believe in conservative core values, and I think the population of Colorado as a whole believes in the same things that people back home in Texas believe. And I want to bring that belief system back here to Colorado.”

He’ll be trying to gain his party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate through the caucus-assembly process, and he looks askance at his rivals trying to petition onto the ballot. “For me it’s a do or die,” he says about his chances at the state assembly. “I either get 30 percent of the vote or I go home.”

What made him run for the Senate five years after moving here is that he never sees or hears from Michael Bennet. The first time he ever heard of Colorado’s Senior Senator, he says, was when Cory Gardner “got a hold of him to speak out about the river spill” in Durango last summer.

“You never see him on the news,” Kinlaw says of the Democratic incumbent he hopes to oust. “You never see him out in public, speaking. … You just never hear about the guy … and I just think Colorado deserves better.”

Peg Littleton

El Paso County Commissioner Peg Littleton likes to tell voters that “If you want another Washington good ‘ole boy, I am not your gal.”

This election, she says, is about fixing a broken system. The former charter school teacher wants to revive plans for the Keystone XL pipeline — which Bennet voted for — and would make public safety one of her highest priorities as a U.S. senator. That includes keeping detainees from Guantanamo Bay out of Colorado prisons.

As for what sets her apart in this race, Littleton notes that, as a former member of the state Board of Education, she’s the only candidate who has been elected statewide in Colorado. She also touts her electability in a general election by pointing out the makeup of the 132,000 voters of her El Paso County commissioner district. Like Colorado as a whole, she says that district is almost evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters.

“If you want to look at what separates me … I am not establishment,” she told The Independent. “I stand up for the people. I do what’s right for the people regardless of what other people in the establishment will ask me to do.”

For instance, she says, she was the first on the county commission to call for the resignation of her local Republican sheriff, Terry Maketa, when he was embroiled in scandal.

In a primary race against several non-politicians, Littleton says she has a record voters can look to when making their decision.

She pegs Bennet as a puppet for Obama, pointing to his support of the administration’s Iran nuclear arms deal and Common Core curriculum. She notes how she sparred with Bennet when he was superintendent of Denver Public Schools and she was on the state board of education.

“I am grassroots,” says Littleton, and so she’s running for the nomination through the caucus-assembly process where she expects she’ll get more than the 30 percent needed to make the June 28 primary ballot.

“I am a passionate public servant. People know that I will vote their voice for them,” she says. “They know that I listen to them.”

Littleton supports Ted Cruz for president.

Jerry Natividad

This is Jerry Natividad’s first time running for office.

He spent years working with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and on Republican campaigns. He also started a successful business with his wife providing building maintenance, management and commercial real estate services to companies and governments.

Natividad calls himself a moderate. According to his website, he’ll focus on cutting taxes, fostering economic growth through free markets, and adjusting spending to reign in the national debt. Little else is known beyond what’s on his website because his campaign hadn’t made him available for an interview over several days. Campaign aide Ellie Reynolds said she hoped Natividad will be available at a later time.

Tim Neville

Neville is part of a Colorado political dynasty.

He is a second-term state senator from Littleton. One of his sons, Patrick, is a Republican member of the Colorado House. Neville’s sister-in-law, Julie Williams, is a conservative who sat on the Jefferson County School board until she was ousted in the big, nationally spotlighted recall election last year. And Neville’s campaign enjoys support from a base of grassroots gun enthusiasts in Colorado via ties to the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners group for which another of his sons was a lobbyist.

“That’s a good support mechanism,” the candidate told The Independent about the group, adding,“I look at organizations like RMGO as no-compromise Second Amendment gun rights folks, and no compromise on the Second Amendment is the way I vote.”

A Florida native, Neville moved to Colorado when he was 21 after being on his own since age 17. He spent time as a restaurant cook, saving money for a degree from Regis University where he majored in business administration and minored in economics. He spent much of his adult career managing food service distribution, and now runs an insurance agency with his wife Barb.

This year Neville sponsored multiple bills in the legislature to expand access to guns, and held a giveaway for an AR-15 as part of his campaign fundraising (even if it wasn’t the most original idea in a campaign for U.S. Senate). His web site gives you a clear view down the barrel of a .45-caliber handgun — a weapon he’s offering donors the chance to win as part of his “Neville grassroots groundswell gun giveaway.”

What sets him apart from others running in the primary pack, Neville says, is that he has a proven track record on conservative issues, even when bills he has introduced multiple times have gone down in flames in a divided legislature. His gun bills this session failed in the House, which Democrats control.

“I’ve actually run bills and not just actually talked about being pro-life and pro-Second Amendment,” Neville told The Independent. “We’ve actually run those types of bills, the hard bills.”

While Neville is a hardcore conservative with a record to back it up, he points out also that he has run and won as a candidate for the state Senate in a district that resembles all of Colorado — nearly split among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

“The key there is to be a very conservative legislator with a very conservative record. And we haven’t backed off on those issues. We haven’t tried to change what we are,” he says.

Unlike his Republican rival Keyser, who resigned his seat in the legislature to run for U.S. Senate, Neville has stayed put to serve out his term.

“We’ve made a commitment to the voters to make sure we’re taking care of our constituents,” he says. “We know how to walk and chew gum. And we don’t leave our post.”

Neville is running through the caucus-convention process for the nomination, or as he tells it, putting his faith in the activist Republican base — a potent pool of grassroots conservatives who likely share his policy stances.

Neville declined to indicate who he’s backing for president, but says, “I’m going to be supportive of the nominee.”

Donald Rosier

Second-term Jefferson County Commissioner Donald Rosier, an engineer, is running for U.S. Senate because — we know you’ve heard this one before — he believes “Washington is broken.”

His campaign website is heavy on biography, noting that he volunteers on more than a dozen boards and commissions, from a noxious weed advisory board to a criminal justice coordinating committee. “Before being elected county commissioner, Rosier served as president of operations for Summit Oil Field Services and as a principal with Westside Investment Partners,” his website reads.

It lacks in specific policy positions.

In general, the fifth-generation Coloradan says he’ll fight for the community and Coloradans’ constitutional rights, prioritize infrastructure, be fiscally responsible, and provide for a strong national defense.

Rosier did not respond to phone messages by the time this story was posted.

Who are the Republican front-runners?

That’s pretty subjective. Ask each of the candidates and they’ll tell you they are, of course.

There hasn’t been any credible public polling in the race taking all candidates into account, so political analysts, observers and journalists generally pick and choose based on experience, name recognition, fundraising, endorsements and support. Some markers to look for as the race unfolds are which candidates are spending money on advertising, who well-known GOP players are lining up behind, and which candidates are the first to turn in their petition signatures for ballot access.

Neville has a built-in network of conservative grassroots support in the gun-rights community and has raised more than $100,000. Blaha came out early with TV ads, running one of them in February after the Super Bowl, and he has the money to keep his mug in front of voters. Graham says he’s willing to spend a million dollars of his own money, and his campaign is being run by a former Colorado GOP party chair. Plus, Graham was the first of the bunch to run in his petitions to get on the ballot to the Secretary of State’s office. Frazier is running a tight, professional campaign operation and has been able to raise nearly $200,000 so far. Keyser was the second candidate to hand in petitions to get him on the ballot, showing he has a competent campaign organization. Frazier and Blaha also turned in their petitions by the deadline. While Keyser has been more press shy than others in the race, he’s racked up big-name establishment endorsements and has attracted much fire from Democrats — a point not lost on his campaign manager’s social media posts like the one below.

When will the Republican field whittle down?

The precinct caucuses already took place on March 1, so the next step for the handful of Republican candidates going through the caucus-convention process will be the state convention on April 9 at the World Arena in Colorado Springs. There, delegates backing particular U.S. Senate candidates will battle out a bloodsport. Candidates need 30 percent of the vote to stay alive at the assembly, so that means only three of them can even possibly emerge, but likely it will be just one or two.

This means that by the June 28 primary there could still be plenty of names winding up on the ballot when you add those who are petitioning directly onto it. Colorado doesn’t hold run-off elections for U.S. Senate, so whichever Republican snags the most votes wins the nomination. With the votes splintered among half a dozen or so candidates, someone could potentially win with relatively low support — like around 15 percent, which is a pretty small percentage of the party’s electorate.

Does Michael Bennet have a Democratic primary challenger?

As of this posting, no Democratic primary challenger has filed with the FEC to challenge him.

Are there any minor party candidates in the race?

Glad you asked! The Colorado Independent was the only news organization in Colorado to attend the Libertarian state nominating convention in March, where the third largest political party in the state chose its nominee for the race.

That would be Lily Tang Williams, a Parker, Colorado, real-estate investor and immigrant who calls herself a “former slave from Communist China.”

Related: Libertarians nominate Lily Williams for U.S. Senate in Colorado

She’s running for U.S. Senate because she opposes big government, Common Core educational standards, corporate welfare and the nation’s surveillance programs. Coming from China, she says she’ll have no problem calling out her Senate colleagues as communists if she has to. She’d limit herself to two terms.

Also, Gary Swing, 48, of Denver, is running as a member of the Boiling Frog Party in Colorado.

Related: Boiling Frog Party candidate: No more kids

Swing says humans need to greatly reduce their per-capita consumption and lower birth rates if we want to keep the planet sustainable. “Towards that end, I suggest pursuing a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity, eating lower on the food chain — less meat and dairy products — localizing food production, and reducing or eliminating reliance on fossil fuels, including personal automobiles,” he says, noting that he hasn’t had a car since 2011.

How will the presidential election factor into the Senate race?

And the answer is: a lot. And it can’t be understated.

Because a presidential candidate will be “on top of the ticket,” a lot more Coloradans will vote than they would in an off-year election such as 2014, when Gardner ousted Udall from office. Who that presidential candidate is for either party will influence many factors, including turnout.

Nationally speaking — and also in Colorado — there’s something of a crisis happening in the GOP establishment. With the current frontrunner Donald Trump doing his bull-in-a-china-shop routine, some establishment Republicans and pundits talk about a brokered convention or a burning down of the party, depending on what happens. In Colorado, the GOP went through some major inter-party turmoil of its own under new leadership last year — including allegations that the state’s Republican attorney general, Cynthia Coffman had blackmailed the GOP chairman — but has since been righting the ship. Still, each Republican member of the state’s congressional delegation decided to take a pass on running for U.S. Senate this year, as did George Brauchler, the Arapahoe-area district attorney who last year prosecuted the Aurora theater shooting trial.

The Denver Post’s John Frank wrote an entertaining piece in January that matched up some of the Republicans running for U.S. Senate with some of the Republicans who were then running for president. (Spoiler: Blaha = Trump; Keyser = Rubio; Neville = Rand Paul/Ted Cruz; Frazier = Ben Carson; Littleon = Carly Fiorina; Glenn = Chris Christie/Dan Gilmore.)

On the Democratic side, the national party is dealing with a rift between its establishment front-runner and a dark horse contender enthusiastically supported by an activist base. Though Hillary Clinton has a lock on the institutional Democratic support of Colorado’s state lawmakers, congressional members and governor, she got trounced in Colorado’s March 1 Democratic caucuses by a record turnout from Bernie Sanders-supporting Democrats. Does that mean the party leadership and elected officials, like Bennet, are out of touch with the base in Colorado? Whether those Sanders supporters will be excited enough to vote if Clinton wins the nominee is still in question.

Have there been any debates or forums? Are there any more planned?

Yes, there have been some, but not all the candidates have shared the stage so far. One forum — for the Republican contenders — took place in early February at the University of Denver, organized by the Undergraduate & Law College Republicans. It featured Blaha, Ehler, Frazier, Glenn, Littleton, Keyser and Neville.

Related: Are Colorado’s Republican U.S. Senate candidates too much alike?

The first televised GOP debate for U.S. Senate in Colorado took place April 4, and was carried live on Denver’s 9News, expertly moderated by Kyle Clark and Brandon Rittiman. Eight of the 11 Republicans made the cut. They were Blaha, Frazier, Glenn, Graham, Keyser, Littleton, Natividad and Neville.

Related: This Colorado U.S. Senate debate showed what Donald Trump means for state-level races

Given the number of high-profile debates between Gardner and Udall in 2014, there will likely be a circus of them between Bennet and the eventual Republican nominee this year.

When is the primary?

Ballots will start being mailed out for the Republican primary on June 7. The primary election is on June 28.

When is the general election?

That will be Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.


Photo credit: Photo credit: Phil Roeder, Creative Commons, Flickr

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About the Author

Corey Hutchins

is a journalist in Colorado, and Columbia Journalism Review's Rocky Mountain correspondent for the United States Project. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyHutchins and email him at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.


  1. Gabriel King on said:

    Thanks to the Democrat psychotic “SJW’s” vastly over reaching…. and Americans witnessing the horrors of the Mass Muslim invasion of Europe across the pond…. and Obama’s dramatically failed and dishonest Presidency….

    You can expect FULL BACKLASH from the American public, with your fingers crossed you can mass import enough invaders/Democrat Voters bribed with welfare to finish wrecking America… and wait it out till your brainwashed public school zombies hit legal voting age….

    UNTIL THEN…. a full out assault will be mounted against the globalist scum who have attempted to deceive and destroy America from here on out.

    Thus far a Neville / Ehler 2016 Senate ticket looks appealing. lol

    The NEWLY REFORMED Republican Party led by Donald Trump…. has won vast minority support already. With the grass roots homosexuals also moving towards Republican as they begin to realize MUSLIMS THROW HOMOSEXUALS OFF BUILDINGS seems to be an incentive. Whereas Christians wrote the Bill of Rights and are generally supportive of personal freedom.

    The elite will of course continue to lie, cheat, and steal… in a desperate attempt to continue to hand the nation over to the UN LEFTIST bankster control… but it will fail as the people wake up and the new American Revolution rises.

    TRUMP 2016 “No more Rino’s, No more Dino’s”

  2. Tom in Green Valley Ranch on said:

    “With the grass roots homosexuals also moving towards Republican as they begin to realize MUSLIMS THROW HOMOSEXUALS OFF BUILDINGS. . . ”

    Mr. King,

    This is the first time I’ve heard this news. It’s always been reported that sometimes 20 percent of the LGBT vote goes to the GOP. But the number is suspect because exit polling can be tricky and pre-election polls may not identify sexual orientation since it’s pretty much a private matter, unlike your gender and zip code. But I’d like to know your source for “grass-root homosexuals” suddenly now moving to the GOP. The Log Cabin Republicans don’t seem to be much of a force these days.

  3. John Williams on said:

    Expect the democrat party to spend millions to save the seat of their yes man Bennet, he is a guaranteed vote anytime he is needed by the DC liberal/socialists. Not surprising that Bennet seems to support clinton for President, I guess better a closet socialist than an admitted socialist. Time is way past for Bennet to be removed from office, he is nothing more than a puppet handled by DC and regardless of what he might say, he is a typical democrat when it comes to your 2nd amendment rights, your rights do not matter, he will vote to strip them in an instant.

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