GOP musical chairs leave state House candidates racing to catch incumbents


[dropcap]A[/dropcap]FTER some early candidate shake-ups, Colorado Republicans are behind — both in time and dollars — if they’re looking to win the ten new seats they’ll need this November to regain control of the Statehouse.

In several potentially tight races across Colorado, GOP candidates who entered the game late or replaced original candidates after this spring’s assemblies trail Democratic incumbents in fundraising.

The most striking example of kind of political musical chairs is in Democrat state representative Max Tyler’s House District 23, which includes Lakewood. After realizing that the Republican Party didn’t have a candidate to challenge Tyler, Nate Marshall was nominated to run in the March 22 Jefferson County GOP Assembly. A week later, reports linking him to online white supremacist activity surfaced and Marshall was forced to drop his bid.

The situation left Marshall, who attested to not being very media savvy, feeling a bit duped.

“They preyed on me to get what the establishment wanted,” he said of the Party brass who fixed his nomination in the March Assembly. He added that he believes that the grassroots nomination process tends to produce more Tea Party candidates — something the party establishment then pushes back against later, when candidates can be replaced if they drop out of the race.

After Marshall withdrew, he was replaced by current GOP contender for the HD 23 seat Jane Barnes.

Barnes, who has served on the Colorado Association of School Boards, has some public service experience, but she entered the race late — in early May — leaving her with the daunting task of both introducing herself to voters and scrambling for contributions. In the first half of June, she raised just $1,300 and now has $1,711 in the bank. That’s a fraction of the $4,360 Tyler raised in the first half of June and the $17,250 he now has in the bank.

“I think we can make it up,” said the glass-half-full Barnes about her organizational and financial disadvantages. “It’s always tricky when you start late. There’s a lot of organizational stuff you have to get going first.”

In some cases, like in the Colorado Springs House District 18, a simple late entry has the GOP candidate racing to catch up. Michael Schlierf, a green energy businessman and lifetime member of both the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association, joined the race in April. So far in June he’s raised just over $750 for a total of $2,539 in the bank. State Rep. Pete Lee, the Democratic incumbent, has been preparing to hold his seat in a district almost evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and Independents for months now. He raised $3,045 in June and now has a whopping $34,966 in the bank.

Schlierf, who knocked thousands of doors during the gun-control motivated recall in the area last year, said he’s not too worried about money yet. He’s spending the first part of his race making sure he really knows the complex district, which encompasses virtually all of downtown Colorado Springs.

“We haven’t even had our campaign kickoff yet in any formal way yet,” he said. “Right now we’re really focusing on reaching out to communities that aren’t normally ours where they don’t typically think about voting Republican. Money will come.”

Some Democratic insiders point to these switcheroos and late entries as a mark of disorganization and fractures in the GOP. That’s also how Marshall sees it, saying he won’t vote Republican until the party “gets it together.”

Even so, some candidates appear to be making it work, despite entering the race a few months late against an incumbent.

Rita Russell, an Englewood small business owner, dropped out of the HD 3 race in mid-April. She was replaced by district native and businesswoman Candice Benge. The seat’s contentious because district’s lines were redrawn in 2012, changing the Englewood and University of Denver area district to one that includes more conservative Arapahoe County voters. Democrat Daniel Kagan held his seat in 2012 despite that shift, but he’s looking at some competition this year against Benge.

Though she also entered the race in early May, Benge has leveraged a career in sales and a lifetime in the district to raise $8,909 in June for a total of $11,863 in the bank. Of the GOP’S gaggle of late-comers, she’s the only one to out-raise her opponent. Kagan pulled down $3,600 in June and now has $9,457 to spend on his tight re-election bid.

It’s still early in the game, but we’ll know in November if this round of musical chairs has produced GOP candidates fast enough to win office, or if it has just left them irrevocably spinning in circles in their quests for a seat.


[Photo from State Library of South Australia]