Barry Farah, the latest entry into a crowded Colorado governor’s race comes with some connections to the world of the wealthy industrialist Koch brothers. Whether they will make a difference or mean much in the race is another story.
The self-made businessman and author who flies his own plane and has a background in tech companies and commercial development has flirted with a campaign for months. He says he decided to make a bid because he hasn’t yet seen Republicans united and excited around a true conservative in the broad GOP primary— a weakness in the field he thinks he can exploit with a three-week blitz before the April 14 GOP state assembly in Boulder.
Some Republicans, however, are questioning how anyone in his position could make a serious impact in the race this late in the game. But Farah hints at his associations with the big-money Koch network through his donations to Koch-backed groups, including its prime political nonprofit, Americans For Prosperity, where his wife has worked. And he might even have a secret plan he’s not yet willing to reveal.
“It is a matter of public record that I previously donated to Freedom Partners and donated to Americans for Prosperity and that my wife was very actively working for them until she just took a leave of absence,” Farah said.
His wife is Tamra Farah, who has for years been a high-profile spokeswoman for AFP in Colorado and is well known in conservative politics. She is now working on his campaign.
Asked about whether he would be able to harness the political powers of the Koch network in his race for governor, Farah hinted that he might. “I can tell you I have lots of friends in those arenas,” he said, adding that his connections to that world “could be a substantial help.” The campaign, he said, is “happy with our friendships there.”
An ability to harness Koch-network support in this year’s governor’s race— tacitly or explicitly— certainly wouldn’t be something to sneeze at.
That’s why Jesse Mallory, who runs the Colorado operation of Americans for Prosperity, says he started fielding calls yesterday from people who heard Farah was poised to announce a run. They wanted to know Mallory’s perspective on the latest news. Mallory told them all the same thing: AFP Colorado is focused on the state legislature, and “we have no plans to involve ourselves in the gubernatorial primary.”
As for Farah himself, asked on the day he announced if his entrance should send any signal to other Republican candidates for governor who might have hoped for help from the Koch network, he said he didn’t want to “go down that path,” adding, “We’ll just see how everything works out.”
While other candidates have been crisscrossing Colorado for the better part of a year, Farah held out and decided to get in after high-profile District Attorney George Brauchler and immigration firebrand Tom Tancredo dropped out— and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, whom he has financially supported in the past, jumped in the race in November.
Still, what his entrance means in the context of this primary is, for some, a head-scratcher.
“Everyone in Colorado politics is trying to wrap their heads around Barry’s motive,” says Ryan Lynch, the former director of the Colorado Republican Party and a political strategist who is not working on a gubernatorial campaign. “This isn’t a Bob Beauprez 2014 scenario where he has to come in and save the party from the clutches of Tom Tancredo.” Lynch added that if he could speak in emojis, “it would be the eyeroll emoji,” when asked about his reaction to the latest twist in an already raucous primary that saw two one-time front-runners drop out.
There will be at least four other Republicans campaigning at next month’s state assembly, including Coffman, who is the most well known. Another three have gathered petitions to try and get directly on the June 26 ballot. They include State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, an establishment favorite, ex-lawmaker Victor Mitchell, who is spending $3 million of his own money, and retired investment banker Doug Robinson, a first-time candidate with backing from Mitt Romney.
Steve House, the former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, says while data he’s seen on the race shows Stapleton leading with Coffman just behind him, nearly 40 percent of Republican primary voters are still undecided. He thinks the more choices voters have the better, so he welcomes another hat in the ring.
“The race is really anybody’s to win,” he said.
Farah’s 11th-hour bid does do one thing: It sets up a state assembly showdown with Coffman and the handful of lesser-known candidates who will vie for the votes of Colorado’s 4,200 GOP delegates. Candidates need to get 30 percent of the vote to make the June ballot, which means only three could emerge in the most balanced— but most unlikely— scenario.
How Farah will try to stand out in that crowd, though, remains to be seen.
“When my message gets out and I communicate what I’m about, I think that ignites those who are true faith-and-freedom-oriented conservatives,” he told The Colorado Independent in an interview.
He declined to make direct comparisons between himself and the others in the race. On specific policy he said he would crack down on sanctuary cities, something about which other candidates often bring up on the stump. He said he would tackle the state’s transportation issues— another top campaign platform issue among his rivals— by making it more of a priority in the state budget and finding more money for it by rooting out government waste.
Recent Colorado state assemblies have vaunted lesser-known underdogs into top positions. In 2016, a little-known county commissioner named Darryl Glenn stunned political observers when he took 70 percent of the vote in a wide primary for U.S. Senate, knocking out six of his rivals after a barn-burner speech.
As for what exactly Farah plans to do in the next three weeks to jockey to the front of a pack of more prominent candidates, he was coy.
“We feel real confident about our strategy but I’m not sure I’m going to reveal all of our strategy,” he said. “I can tell you this, we have one and we’re going to implement it and we think it will put us in a strong position to do very, very well.”
The factor that drew immediate attention when Farah announced his run for governor, however, is his proximity to AFP. The limited government group is a national political juggernaut that has adeptly synthesized big money with on-the-ground activism. It has a major presence in Colorado.
Americans for Prosperity started out in 2004 as the prime tax-exempt nonprofit arm of the Koch brothers and a network of like-minded, conservative donors, many of whom are unknown, and as a social welfare group, or 501 (c)(4), AFP’s tax-exempt status means it “must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.”
In recent years the group has been flexing its political muscle in Colorado’s battleground elections and at the state Capitol. It typically gets involved in issues by promoting limited government, fighting taxes and defending the budget-limiting Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
Sometimes the group gets involved in elections, and Colorado has been ground zero in those efforts.
In 2016, for instance, Colorado was the only state where AFP got directly involved in a congressional election by advocating for a candidate’s defeat. AFP president Tim Phillips personally knocked on doors in the district represented by GOP congressman Mike Coffman during the election. The only time AFP had done something similar was in 2014 against Democrat Mark Udall who was running for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. In both instances the Democrat lost.
So far, at least one Republican Farah will face at the state assembly next month is using the Koch connection to lob some bombs.
Steve Barlock, who was the Denver co-chair of Donald Trump’s campaign and is running as a hardline Trumpist in the race, often notes how Stapleton is a cousin to George W. Bush and that Robinson is a nephew of Mitt Romney. With Farah’s entrance, he has added a new line to this campaign talking point.
“With the Romneys we don’t want to be Utah East, with the Bushes we don’t want to be Texas North, and now with Barry we don’t want to be West Kansas,” Barlock said, a reference to David and Charles Koch being from Wichita. “We want to be Colorado.”
Other campaigns, however, downplayed the association.
Robinson’s spokeswoman Brett Maney said she doesn’t take Farah’s bid as a sign of anything larger than another candidate with political connections trying to capitalize on a wildcard primary that doesn’t yet have a clear frontrunner. “I personally don’t view it as AFP really putting something down,” she said, adding that the group would likely be happy with any of the leading Republicans running.
Roger Hudson, who leads the communications efforts for the Coffman campaign, dismissed Farah as “just another wealthy consultant with too much time on his hands who apparently can’t decide whether he wants to run for governor or not.” Farah’s campaign countered that he comes from humble beginnings.
Stapleton’s campaign manager, Michael Fortney, said he didn’t care to comment at all about the latest Republican entry into the race.