Colorado GOP walks fine line on Trump

With the Republican presidential nominee declaring war on any Republican who won’t back him, most prominent members of Colorado’s GOP are choosing their words carefully to avoid being seen as either too supportive of Donald Trump or not supportive enough. But others are saying they’re on the Trump train and not abandoning their support.

In the week since the Washington Post first reported on an Access Hollywood video in which Trump boasts about groping women without their consent (followed by a Trump denial that he ever actually did so, followed by several women coming forward to say, yes, he did), Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma, who is in the second year of a six-year term, joined more than two dozen national lawmakers who have urged Trump to drop out of the presidential contest. U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora, who is in a hotly-contested race in the Sixth Congressional District, and who distanced himself from Trump early in the campaign, is also among those urging the businessman to leave the race.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Darryl Glenn of Colorado Springs has gone back and forth in the past week about his position on Trump. Saturday, Glenn unendorsed the nominee, but by Monday he told Fox News he was reconsidering that position and hoped to meet with Trump.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez, who is in a tight re-election battle with former state Sen. Gail Schwartz of Crested Butte for the Third Congressional District seat, told Ernest Luning of The Colorado Statesman last Sunday that he will continue to support Trump, but demanded Trump apologize for his remarks. It’s too late to replace anyone on the ballot, Tipton told Luning.

Here’s a snapshot of where some of the state’s most prominent Republicans stand on the matter of Donald J. Trump for president:

Secretary of State Wayne Williams

Williams, who is up for re-election next year, said his focus has been on getting ready for the November election and visiting county clerks around the state to check in on their readiness.

Trump wasn’t his first choice, Williams told The Colorado Independent. Nor was he Williams’ second or third choice. “But I believe he will appoint better people” to government agencies than his opponent, former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Williams is not only referring to the Supreme Court position left vacant in February by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. He said he’s also thinking about thousands of other appointments to federal agencies. “It’s not just a few Supreme Court appointees I’m concerned about,” he said.

Regarding the future of the state GOP after November, Williams said the party will shift to looking at the race for governor and state treasurer. Both current office-holders (Gov. John Hickenlooper and Treasurer Walker Stapleton) will be term-limited in 2018. “It will be an entirely different group of players,” Williams said.

But Williams also said he doesn’t worry too much about Trump’s impact on down-ballot candidates in Colorado. As he sees it, state voters have “long had a strong ability to look at individual races and candidates.” People will look at each race individually, just as they did two years ago, he added.

Former Gov. Bill Owens

Owens took the opposite view of Trump, as indicated by a post on his Facebook page Tuesday. He called Trump a “charlatan” and a “narcissist who will throw us aside after doing his best to destroy us, just as he has thrown aside so many of his properties and ventures.”

Owens, now a senior director in government law and policy for the law firm Greenberg Traurig, said the Republican challenge is do everything possible to keep majorities in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, governors’ races, state legislatures and even down to the county commissioner level.

After Nov. 8, Owens continued, the GOP’s task is to “rebuild at the Presidential level so that we can once again give Americans a legitimate choice for President. We have done so in the past and our Country needs us to do so again in the future.”

Owens’ office staff told The Independent the former governor has no further comment regarding the FB post and has chosen not to respond to media requests regarding it.

State GOP Party Chair Steve House

House backs Trump wholeheartedly. He told The Independent that there would be no lasting Trump effect on the state party after the election.

But between now and Nov. 8? “I think our congressional candidates are going to run on their records. I don’t think this whole thing is going to end up having anything to do with them. Plus, with this presidential race and the amount of emails that are being leaked from Wikileaks and stuff, the narrative is going to change every day. So I don’t really know that it will have any significant impact on what happens.”

House says Republican voters and activists he has spoken with in recent days have stated repeatedly that they support Trump. “We are really getting virtually no feedback from anybody that they’re not supporting him,” he said, pointing out he gets 300 to 400 emails a day, almost all supporting the nominee and encouraging the party to stay with Trump.

And what of the Colorado GOP after the election? Its outreach efforts could be a boon to the national Republican Party, House said. “We’re clearly spending more time in the African-American communities, listening, understanding what their needs are.”

He said recent efforts included attendance and sponsorship at the Urban League’s annual gala, a meeting of the Colorado Black Women’s Association Political Action Luncheon, and regular meetings with the Denver Ministerial Alliance, which is the black pastors’ association. House said the GOP has made similar outreach to Hispanics, too, and is focused on trying to figure out “what makes those voters’ lives better.”

Members of the Colorado House and Senate Republican caucuses

The Trump campaign continues to try and shore up support among prominent Republicans, with mixed results. This week, a statement of support for Trump, sent by his campaign to the General Assembly’s 49 Republicans, garnered 19 signatures.

The statement reads: “As an elected official and Republican leader I fully support the Republican nominee for President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump presents a unique opportunity for America to move in a decidedly different direction. With the Supreme Court at risk, this is the time for those in leadership to stand strong and unified.”

Seven out of the 18 members of the Republican caucus in the state Senate signed the letter, including Sen. Laura Woods of Westminster, who is in a tight re-election bid in her Senate District 19 race against Democrat and former state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada.

Woods has never been shy about her support for Trump. She told The Colorado Statesman in August that she is “not considering running away from him. He is the people’s candidate. The people have spoken across this country — 14 million voters.”

Woods has not spoken publicly about Trump since the latest scandals erupted, and did not respond to an inquiry from the Independent.  Zenzinger told The Denver Post that she finds it “appalling that my opponent would continue to support Donald Trump after his apparent history of sexually assaulting women has come to light.”

None of the members of the Senate Republican caucus leadership signed the letter. That includes Senate President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs, Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel of Parker, Senate President Pro tem Ellen Roberts of Durango and Senate Assistant Minority Leader Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud.

Cadman and Scheffel are term-limited; Lundberg and Roberts are midway through their final terms in the Senate and not up for re-election this year.

In the House, 12 out of the 31 members of the Republican caucus, almost all in safe Republican seats, signed onto the statement of support. But a couple of lawmakers in swing seats also signed on, including Rep. JoAnn Windholz of Commerce City, who is running for her second term against Dafna Michaelson Jenet. Windholz won her 2014 race by a margin of just 104 votes, in what was a Republican landslide year. Rep. J. Paul Brown of Ignacio, who is in a hotly-contested race with Democrat Barbara McLachlan of Durango, also signed the letter.

The only member of the Republican caucus leadership to sign the letter was Rep. Polly Lawrence of Roxborough Park, the assistant minority leader.

Trump’s most prominent Hispanic supporter in Colorado, Rep. Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff of Pueblo did not sign. She told The Denver Post that she would “continue to support all of the Republican candidates on the ballot” but didn’t mention Trump in that statement.

Former U.S. Congressman Bob Beauprez, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman did not returns calls and/or emails from The Independent

Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler (who’s seen as a leading candidate for governor in 2018) did not return a call for comment by deadline.


Photo credit: Michael Vadon, Creative Commons, Flickr 

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.