The Colorado GOP Needs A Comeback. But First It Must Pick Someone To Lead It

Lockwood said he feels like Gessler in particular has been “all over the place” when it comes to election fraud. For his part, Lockwood would like Republicans to move on from the 2020 election but acknowledged that’s not easy. 

“It is probably leaps and bounds above all other issues, the number one issue to a lot of the people voting in this chair race,” he said. Lockwood’s message to those Republicans? “Joe Biden won the election. It’s time to move forward. And when mainstream voters hear the words, ‘election integrity’ from a Republican’s mouth, they hear ‘election denial.’ And that is not a good thing for the party.”

Lockwood describes himself as an unconventional disruptor and an innovator. He believes the next chair needs to connect to all of the suffering people have faced during the pandemic and have ideas on how Colorado can rebuild.

“We also need to spread the good news and tell people it’s not all doom and gloom. You can be self-determined, you can succeed. You need to start planning for success, not for failure.”

Mancuso noted the next chair will have the difficult task of reaching out to the different factions within the GOP: those that want to move on from the Trump era, and those who think the establishment never backed him enough. 

“We lost a lot, a few years ago, (of) the ‘never Trumpers,’’ he said. “Now we’re losing the ‘forever Trumpers.’” He said the party needs to create more opportunities for people to  listen and share their perspectives. “I wrestled in school. I boxed golden gloves, and it’s going face-to-face, nose-to-nose. It’s explaining to them where we’re coming from, to bring them back in.”

For Stockham, growing the party means taking action now. After the 2020 election, he formed the group America First Republicans, with the goal of training grassroots candidates, particularly young people and people of color. The organization has a conservative platform that is anti-abortion and opposed to illegal immigration and same-sex marriage.

Natalia Navarro/CPR News
Casper Stockham, speaking at a 2019 protest outside Rep. Jason Crow’s Aurora office. Stockham intended to challenge Crow in 2020, before running unsuccessfully against Rep. Ed Perlmutter instead.

”What I’ve been asking (the Party) to do for eight years is to show up in the communities more, the Black and Hispanic community. They’ve been ignoring those communities, thinking that they didn’t need the vote,” Stockham said. “But now it’s evident that in order to win statewide, we have to have that vote. It’s not a question of, ‘it’d be nice to have.’”

The gender, age and racial diversity of this group of candidates stands out when compared to the makeup of Colorado’s elected Republican officials. At the Colorado capitol, the GOP caucuses are overwhelmingly male and white, with just one Republican woman serving on the Senate side, and no members who are openly gay. 

Both of the candidates vying for the party’s vice-chair position are women of color.

Republicans see opportunities, in spite of headwinds

Colorado has traditionally been a purple swing state, but in the last few cycles, it’s looked increasingly blue. Democrats now control the legislature, all major statewide offices and both U.S. Senate seats. However, former Republican Congressman Scott McInnis told CPR News he thinks Colorado may just be naturally due for a pendulum swing toward Republicans if the party can capitalize on opposition to Democratic policies.

“The Democrats in Colorado are overreaching,” he said. “So I think there’s going to be some momentum for a change in the future if you keep going the direction on some of the extreme positions they’ve taken.”

The last time Republicans wielded significant power at the ballot box was 2014 when they took control of the state Senate. That same year the GOP flipped a U.S. Senate seat from blue to red and won the races for Attorney General, Secretary of State and Treasurer. The previous year Republicans recalled two Democratic state lawmakers after the legislature passed several gun control measures. 

AP Photo/Chris Schneider
Senator-elect, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, (R-Colo.), left, celebrates with his wife Jamie Gardner, right, during the GOP election night gathering at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center, in Denver, Colo., on Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 4, 2014. Gardner defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.

Yet, nearly a decade later Colorado’s demographics have changed significantly. Unaffiliated voters now make up the largest percentage of the electorate. Over the past five years, the state’s Democratic Party has surpassed the GOP in registration, adding 222,018 active voters, while Republicans only grew by 70,336. More recently, in the week after the U.S. Capitol insurrection, nearly 5,000 Colorado Republicans left the party.

Faced with those numbers, all of the candidates for GOP chair talked about the need to raise more money, improve communication with local officials and be more innovative.

“We’re the incredible shrinking party,” Gessler said. “We focus on a few candidates, usually federal candidates, and leave everyone else to try and swim on their own. I would say the party raised $285,000 for state funds the entire two-year cycle. That’s almost nothing. Our communications strategy is not relevant. It is not inspirational. It’s oftentimes not even heard.”

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