George Brauchler ditches the governor’s race to run for attorney general

In August, when the Republican side of the governor’s race was still shaping up and District Attorney George Brauchler was atop of the field, he discounted any notion that he might abandon his run for a different office. 

The particular speculation at the time was that he might run for Congress. If I do that, he told this reporter, you can call me back and tell me I’m “full of shit.”

But in the three months since, three more candidates have joined the GOP side of the governor’s race— including Tom Tancredo, the Godfather of the right-wing grassroots, and also the sitting attorney general, Cynthia Coffman. Suddenly Brauchler was no longer the golden boy of the GOP field.

On Monday, he formally suspended his gubernatorial campaign and announced his decision to run instead for attorney general. 

The news comes days after Coffman took the plunge and launched a bid for governor, leaving the attorney general’s race to five announced Democrats and no Republican in the field.

It might not be Congress, but the decision to change gears still was not easy, Brauchler said. 

Colorado Republican AG Cynthia Coffman jumps in the governor’s race. Here’s what that means.

“I didn’t see this coming,” Brauchler told The Colorado Independent. He thought if Coffman hadn’t jumped in the governor’s race by October she would run for re-election. But following her Nov. 8 announcement, Brauchler’s phone started blowing up with calls from people who thought he should jump into the AG’s race and those who wanted him to stay on course.

On Monday he sent an email to supporters of his gubernatorial campaign.

“If you’re reading this, you have a 1-in-7 chance of running for Governor of Colorado,” he wrote, saying he was waiting for even Santa Claus to get in the already crowded field and one he thinks still might not be settled.

Brauchler, who was seen by Republicans as a formidable contender for governor when he announced his bid in April, had been running a conservative campaign and racked up a string of of Tea Party group straw poll wins along the campaign trail. But his fundraising never caught fire to the extent some Republicans expected. Then Tancredo, running to Brauchler’s right, rolled into the race, and Brauchler acknowledged it complicated his path to victory.

“He also competes for some of the same votes that I’d compete for,” Brauchler said.

The field was large even before Tancredo and Coffman got in. It included Denver investment banker Doug Robinson, entrepreneur and one-time lawmaker Victor Mitchell, Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter, Donald Trump’s Denver co-chair Steve Barlock, former Parker mayor Greg Lopez, and San Luis Valley resident Jim Rundberg.

Coffman congratulated Brauchler on his decision.

Not everyone was on board, he says, especially some diehards.

“There were people that were adamant that I should stay in the race,” he said, but for some, it was more passion that pragmatism.

“The attorney general has to be the second-most influential position in state government,” Brauchler said, adding that he’s looking forward to tackling an opioid crisis and deterring human trafficking. He said a Republican attorney general can act as a check against a Democratic governor. He also said he would defend Colorado’s laws against an overreaching federal government. “I say without hesitation I don’t care who’s at the helm of that federal government,” he said. “It could President Obama or President Trump.”

Asked if he would reverse any high-profile Coffman decisions, he said there might be a case-by-case instance, but that he is generally reluctant to dig through old files to try and change the outcome of a previous elected official.

One recent high-profile decision was Coffman’s choice not to prosecute Micheal Baca, a member of the 2016 Electoral College class who made history last December when he tried to cast an official vote for someone other than the winner of Colorado’s popular vote as state law requires during a voting ceremony in Denver. Coffman said she used her discretion not to bring charges “so the individual cannot use our court system as a taxpayer-funded platform to capture more headlines and further flout the law.”

While he wouldn’t second-guess Coffman’s decision because he didn’t have access to all the details of the case, Brauchler said he was disappointed with her explanation.

“I’m not going to let anybody’s attempted use of a courtroom dissuade me from seeking justice if it’s appropriate to do so,” he said. “That is not a factor I consider in whether or not to prosecute someone. It’s ‘Do I have a good-faith basis to believe they committed the crime I’ve charged them with, do I have a reasonable likelihood of success, and is it the right thing to do.’”

With Brauchler out of the Republican primary for governor, Tancredo is the likely benefactor of his vote share. Brauchler and Coffman weren’t “drinking out of the same voter pool,” Brauchler said. While he was in the race he needled Stapleton more than any other candidate.

The day Brauchler announced he was leaving the governor’s race was also the day he and Stapleton were to appear for the first time together in a public forum.

As for the Democrats running for attorney general, they are Denver prosecutor Amy Padden, former University of Colorado Law School dean Phil Weiser, Thornton Rep. Joe Salazar, Boulder prosecutor Michael Dougherty, and Denver attorney Brad Levin.

Out of all of them, Salazar, a supporter of Bernie Sanders and a consistent progressive voice at the state capitol, was the only name Brauchler mentioned when it came to a potential general election matchup.

“If it turns out to be a Joe Salazar nomination on the other side, this could be a really fun general election— I realize it’s just attorney general, I’m just saying— that could be fun,” Brauchler said.

Salazar agreed, chuckling, “This will be the only time you’ll hear me agreeing with George Brauchler.”

Photo courtesy of George Brauchler for Governor