Before tonight’s TV debate, is Darryl Glenn off the Trump train or all aboard?

 

On Saturday morning, Darryl Glenn was praying.

The deeply conservative El Paso County commissioner, retired Air Force colonel and GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in Colorado, was looking for divine inspiration about his open embrace of Donald Trump. In three days he would be confronting his Democratic rival in their one and only televised debate.

But on Saturday, around Colorado and the nation, Republicans were sawing away at their support for the Republican presidential nominee following leaked recordings from 2005 of Trump saying, among other things, that he liked to grab women by their genitals and could get away with it because he was “a star.”

Shortly after the news hit Friday, Republican Congressman Mike Coffman, who is in a tough re-election campaign in the Denver suburbs, said he hoped Trump would step aside. He was followed by Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma, who, in a statement Saturday, said he could not support someone who “brags about degrading and assaulting women.”

So plenty of eyes were on Glenn, who is set to debate Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet this evening on 9News. During his Republican primary campaign, Glenn enjoyed the support of Trump rival Ted Cruz, but openly backed Trump as a general election candidate. He once called the business mogul a “patriot.”

By Saturday afternoon, Glenn’s prayers were apparently answered.

In a news release from his campaign, Glenn said that as a father, a Christian, and a Republican, “we simply cannot tolerate a nominee who speaks this way about women.” Glenn suggested Trump do the “honorable, selfless thing” and step aside, allowing his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to take his place.

His decision did not sit will with some voters, two of whom spoke to The Colorado Independent in the immediate aftermath.

Following a garage sale in Colorado Springs Saturday, Frank Alvis, a retired grocery store meat cutter and former Democrat who is still standing by Trump, couldn’t believe Glenn and others were giving up on the nominee so easily.

“They’re pulling out too early,” he said.

In Boulder, a Democratic stronghold, retired military man Duane Baker, whose support for Trump also has not been shaken, predicted the leaked audio tapes were merely the beginning of what else might emerge about Trump. But he believed Republicans should hold fast.

“I’m finding fault with these Republicans who are jumping ship,” he said.

Republican activists, too, were rattling the sabres. Kanda Calef, an elected member of the El Paso County Republican Party’s executive committee, in Glenn’s hometown, threw her support behind the Libertarian candidate in the U.S. Senate race. She was followed by Lana Fore, the secretary of the Colorado Springs Republican Women group.

By Monday, Glenn was backpedaling, saying on Fox News that he might still be open to once again supporting Trump and that he wanted a face-to-face meeting with him. His earlier statement severing support for Trump disappeared from his Facebook wall.

“Donald Trump did what he absolutely had to do,” Glenn said about Trump’s Sunday night debate performance with Hillary Clinton. “I think he reset this campaign. People were wanting him to come out and show contrition, and he did that. He accepted responsibility.”

Glenn later told a Denver TV station he was undecided on whether he would vote for Trump.

Unsurprisingly, state Democrats pounced, firing off a sarcastic statement about Glenn’s “strong showing of leadership.”

The whirlwind weekend is the latest to buffet the Republican campaign for U.S. Senate that had once had been pegged as one of the nation’s most important. Polling and national handicapping that months ago had the incumbent Democrat in a toss-up race now has him solidly safe.

A Real Clear Politics poll average has Bennet leading with double-digits. National media, once drawn to Colorado’s U.S. Senate races in droves, have been dismissive. A recent story in the beltway Bible POLITICO about how GOP U.S. Senate candidates around the country are outperforming Trump in polls carried this line: “Trump is outpacing Senate candidate Darryl Glenn (38 for Trump; 35 for Glenn), but Glenn’s nomination is considered a mistake that kicked away any chance of beating the incumbent Democrat, Michael Bennet.”

A headline last month in The Durango Herald read, “Democrats laughing over Darryl Glenn’s confidence.” (Glenn had said national Republicans aren’t helping him in Colorado because they know he’s guaranteed to win.)

Now, one week away from ballots being mailed to voters, the Senate race is nothing like the roaring campaigns around this time two years ago, when Republican Cory Gardner’s face was a ubiquitous presence on TV screens, buoyed by national Republican groups. Reporters from both coasts were dropping in for dispatches as Gardner debated the incumbent Democrat, Mark Udall, seemingly every week.

Related: What Democrats and Republicans learned from the 2014 U.S. Senate race (and why, in 2016, it might not matter)

By late August this year, two months into Glenn’s general election candidacy, Republicans in Colorado griped about his “failure to launch” after a sprawling, chaotic 15-candidate outhouse fire of a Republican primary that left one county GOP chair calling it “one fiasco after another.”

In that primary, Glenn ran an underfunded underdog campaign that shocked everyone but Glenn when he won, first at the April state GOP convention against six others, and then again on the June four-candidate primary ballot.

Since then, he hasn’t picked up much steam, raised much money, or garnered substantial support in polls or high-profile endorsements. The editorial board of The Denver Post, which picked Republican incumbents like Coffman and his congressional colleague Scott Tipton to remain in office, has endorsed Democrat Bennet for re-election, saying Glenn has “a glass jaw and little staying power.”

The line is a dig at Glenn’s refusal to speak with reporters for the state’s largest newspaper or participate in a debate The Denver Post wished to sponsor, after the paper reported on a 1983 assault charge that was later dropped, which Glenn said stemmed from a domestic violence incident between his father and mother in his childhood home.

In this vacuum of a vigorous statewide Republican campaign, Bennet has been airing positive TV commercials for months and has generally acted like an incumbent with little to fear at the ballot box next month. He, too, declined a debate with the Denver CBS affiliate, and irked the editor of The Pueblo Chieftain by turning down a debate sponsored by the southern Colorado paper. He even said at one point, before stating he wouldn’t vote for President Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership global trade agreement as-is, that he might not come out with a public stance on it before voters get their ballots.

So plenty is riding on tonight debate for Glenn, and his relationship with Trump will likely feature prominently. 

“Tonight Darryl Glenn owes Coloradans answers on why he is still standing with Donald Trump, even after Trump’s latest despicable comments,” said Bennet spokeswoman Alyssa Roberts.

At least one Glenn supporter, Kit Carson County GOP chair Aileen Richard, hopes he can avoid getting into it, and focus on his own race instead of the national Republican Party or its nominee.

“I feel like the whole party is sort of really not a party right now,” she said. 

 

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