GOP establishment grasping for 2016 Senate candidate

With the news yesterday that 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler would not seek the 2016 Republican nomination for Senate, who becomes the GOP’s next chosen one?

Brauchler was mentioned as the Republican establishment’s top candidate to run against Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, next year.

But Brauchler’s decision to run for another term as DA next year, and possibly governor in 2018, leaves the GOP with a lot of announced candidates that some say won’t fare well in a general election.

Brauchler’s departure means that Colorado and national GOP operatives are still looking for their best chance to unseat Bennet.

Today, Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, makes it official that he’s seeking the GOP nomination. Neville, a first-term senator in the state legislature, is considered among the more conservative nominees and among announced candidates the only one with a voting record on statewide issues.

Neville is pro-voucher, in favor of repealing the state’s latest gun control laws and pro-life. Along with son Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Franktown, he sponsored a parent’s bill of rights during the last session that turned into a debate over parents withholding vaccines from their minor children.

Then there’s Darryl Glenn. An El Paso County commissioner, Glenn lacks statewide name recognition but has taken positions conservatives love: pro-life, anti-common core (the GOP’s latest bogeyman) and anti-Obamacare.

Colorado Springs businessman Robert Blaha reportedly said he will formally announce this month that he will enter the Senate race on the GOP side. Blaha has run for office once before, in a primary against U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., in 2012. Blaha lost that race by more than 20 percent. Blaha has a strong advantage over other GOP candidates: money. He put $775,000 of his own funds into running against Lamborn in 2012, and reportedly said he would do the same for 2016.

There are two other announced GOP candidates for the Senate race, according to the Federal Elections Commission: Charles Joseph Ehler and Michael Kinlaw, both of Colorado Springs. Neither has raised any money for the race, according to FEC filings.

Ehler, a 21-year Air Force veteran, also is opposed to Obamacare and common core, and supports building a fence on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. Kinlaw, formerly a real estate and mortgage broker, is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and the military, ending “illegal immigration” and scaling back foreign aid.

But none so far had the interest like Brauchler had from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which supports the Republican U.S. Senate majority and looks for candidates to strengthen that majority.

Former state GOP chair Ryan Call told The Colorado Independent that current candidates for the GOP race don’t inspire much confidence, and he believes the party still has candidates who could step in and mount a winning campaign.

Who? He would not say.

“Lots of good people believe Colorado deserves better than the representation of Michael Bennet,” Call said. “That provides motivation for me and others to do everything possible to give Coloradans a choice.”

A Quinnipiac University poll in July found Bennet on somewhat shaky ground: He had a 41 percent to 34 percent approval rating, but 40 percent of voters said he did not deserve re-election in 2016, with 32 percent supporting a re-election bid.

Democrats this week said Brauchler joins a growing list of Republicans who have turned down the National Republican Senatorial Committee on the Senate race. That includes Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.; his wife, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango; and former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp.

The current field “ensures “a crowded primary, full of candidates passed over by party leaders…that will leave them with a nominee who can’t win in 2016,” said state Democratic Party spokesman Andrew Zucker in a statement.

“Running a Senate campaign in a battleground state is no easy task,” Call said Thursday, a nod to the tough 2014 contest that saw then-U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., beat incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo..

That task could be much harder in a presidential election year. The last time a Republican won a Senate seat in Colorado in a presidential election year was 1996, when Wayne Allard beat Democrat Tom Strickland.

Photo credit: Rennett Stowe, Creative Commons, Flickr