BOULDER — Cory Gardner won’t face a primary challenge for U.S. Senate, but there likely will be a four-way race for the Republican nomination for governor.
At Colorado’s GOP Assembly on Saturday, Gardner took 74 percent of the delegate vote, knocking out two other Republican contenders to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in a race that’s already drawn more than $1 million in TV ads by independent groups.
Former state Senate minority leader Mike Kopp and Secretary of State Scott Gessler made the GOP gubernatorial primary, where they will join Tom Tancredo and probably Bob Beauprez, who are petitioning onto the ballot. The primary election is June 24.
Nearly 3,900 delegates and another thousand or so alternates and Republican guests made it through almost eight hours of speechmaking, voting and lots of waiting around for everything from food to results at Coors Events Center on the University of Colorado campus.
Kopp edged out Gessler by a few tenths of a percent to take top line on the gubernatorial primary ballot. Kopp received 33.6 percent of the vote to Gessler’s 33.1 percent. Three other candidates — state Sen. Greg Brophy, Mike House and Roni Bell Sylvester — failed to make the ballot.
Kopp’s win might come as a surprise for some. He has been out of office for almost two years. But he had backing from heavy GOP hitters like former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, and filled the stage with his supporters for a nominating speech that emphasized “fighting giants.”
“In our quest for freedom, I will not quit you,” he told the delegates. “We are not the East Coast, we are Colorado and we are taking our state back.”
Gessler, who also was surrounded by supporters before his speech, played a video called “Desk to Nowhere” lampooning Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. Gessler emphasized his past success in elected office.
“I won my statewide election,” he said. “I beat my Democrat incumbent, not by a little, but by a lot… I am tired of Republicans who fear that every Democrat attack spells disaster.”
Candidates Tancredo and Beauprez both showed up Saturday, but weren’t allowed to make speeches because they’re petitioning on to the ballot rather than qualifying through the assembly process. Tancredo’s petition signatures were verified last week. Beauprez’s have yet to be verified.
Gardner spent much of his Assembly speech attacking Udall.
“When he campaigned for the United States Senate, he said he would be bipartisan,” Gardner said. “He decided that (President Barack) Obama’s political future was more important than our political future.
“We will defeat Mark Udall and make (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid a footnote in history.”
The Senate race may be the one Republicans are most excited about because polls show Udall is vulnerable. Gardner, at two-term Congressman representing Colorado’s 4th Congressional District edged out state Sen. Randy Baumgardner and Tom Janich with his 74 percent delegate vote Saturday.
The race will draw plenty of attention as Republicans try to win the U.S. Senate from Democrats for Obama’s final two years in office. Outside groups spent nearly $30 million in Colorado in the 2010 Senate race narrowly won by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet over challenger Ken Buck.
In one other contested race, Cynthia Coffman took more than 69 percent of the vote for attorney general with her challenger, former House minority leader Mark Waller getting just more than 30 percent of the vote to make the ballot.
Party Chairman Ryan Call noted that Colorado is one of the few states that still uses a caucus/assembly process to select primary candidates, and commended the system.
“Colorado is one of the largest state assemblies of its kind,” he said.
The mood in the convention hall was festive, with signs, buttons, books and stickers everywhere. Coffman’s supporters wore black and teal fedoras. A Kopp supporter tooled around the arena in a Segway waving signs for his candidate.
There were frustrations as some delegates received ballots and began turning them in before nominations for attorney general were completed. A motion to toss out early ballots failed, and Call apologized for the mixup.
And there were jokes about security — delegates were allowed to bring concealed handguns, which, as Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman pointed out, caused a lot of beeping from security wands used at the entrances.
“I have never felt this safe in Boulder,” Cadman quipped.