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A Primary Eve Look At Two Of Colorado's GOP Races

Hickenlooper-State of Colorado / Gardner-U.S. House of Representatives
Two GOP primaries are June 24 to decide the Republican candidate that will challenge Governor Hickenlooper (left) in November and for who will face the Democratic candidate for Cory Gardner's (right) vacated seat in the 4th Congressional District.

Colorado’s primary election is Tuesday June 24, and in many ways it marks the beginning of the political season that will culminate in November. Two GOP primary races are being closely watched.

The race in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District is surprisingly competitive. When Congressman Cory Gardner unexpectedly decided to run for U.S. Senate it left the race wide open. The district spans most of Eastern Colorado from New Mexico to Wyoming and includes Greeley.

“It is one of the most Republican leaning districts in the United States,” said Colorado State University political science professor Kyle Saunders. “It has 80,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, and that’s quite a margin. So whoever wins this primary is going to win the general election.”

Right now it’s a four-way contest between Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, Steve Laffey, a former mayor from Rhode Island, state senator Scott Renfroe, and Weld County district Attorney Ken Buck. There’s been no polling on the race, which Saunders said makes it difficult to predict.

“Buck should’ve been the favorite. Buck may continue to be the favorite,” Saunders said. “Renfroe is kind of the horse closing in on him as we approach the finish line. Steve Laffey, I don’t know where to put him although he does have a lot of money. And unfortunately Barbara Kirkmeyer hasn’t gained much momentum.”

Buck was the first to enter the race. He was already running for U.S. senate but stepped aside when Gardner opted for a Senate run. It’s not his first major campaign. In 2010, Buck was the tea party candidate challenging Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, and narrowly lost.

Now, Buck is the odds on favorite notes Colorado State University political science professor John Straayer.

“Given his previous run for Senate, Buck is well known, better known than any of the others,” Straayer said. "He’s been able to raise money. But the other side of it from Renfroe’s standpoint, I think Renfroe is arguably the most conservative of the whole bunch. That’s going to appeal to the more hardcore right leaning elements of the party, and those are the folks who are most likely to show up."

Unlike the 4th Congressional District, the gubernatorial primary race won’t lead to an almost certain victory in November. Four candidates are vying to unseat Governor John Hickenlooper who still has favorable poll numbers, presenting a challenge for the eventual primary winner points out Kyle Saunders.

“Whoever does emerge from the Republican primary is going to have a difficult time,” said Saunders. "Even with the difficulties that Governor Hickenlooper has faced over the last couple of years, the approval ratings have gone down a bit and those sorts of things. It’s still going to be Hickenlooper’s race to lose.”

In the primary, it’s between Former Congressmen Tom Tancredo and Bob Beauprez, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former state senate minority leader Mike Kopp. John Straayer said not all of the candidates have an equal chance in November going into Tuesday’s primary.

“The two most difficult the toughest challengers for him would be Tancredo and/or Beauprez," Straayer said. "They are both pretty well known; they have their backers. The most intense element in the party, that probably favors Tancredo. Beauprez might have a broader appeal."

But even though Hickenlooper has the advantage – Straayer said it won’t be like his last election.

“Four years ago on the Republican side it just all fell apart. It almost became a comedy show and he just walked in,” Straayer said. "I think it will be a little bit tougher this time."

Midterm elections typically have a lower turn out than in presidential years, which means it will be crucial for all sides to mobilize their bases. Kyle Sanders thinks that enthusiasm gap could be a potential problem for Hickenlooper, saying that the "Democratic side of the electorate is a little less energized."  

There’s also a question of how statewide anti-fracking ballot questions could impact the gubernatorial race should they move forward. 

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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