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Colorado GOP selects combative, election-denying new leader

The Colorado Republican Party on Saturday selected a combative former state representative who promised to be a "wartime" leader as its new chairman, joining several other state GOPs this year that have elected far-right figures and election conspiracy theorists to their top posts.

The move in Colorado comes as the party totters on the brink of political irrelevance in a state moving swiftly to the left.

Former State Rep. Dave Williams, who unsuccessfully tried to insert the phrase "Let's Go Brandon" into his name on the party's primary ballot last year and insists -- incorrectly -- that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election, was selected by the party's executive committee out of a seven-person field.

State Republican Parties Colorado
FILE - Former State Rep. Dave Williams speaks during a debate for the state Republican Party leadership position on Feb. 25, 2023, in Hudson, Colo. The Colorado Republican Party on Saturday, March 11, selected Williams as its new chairman. David Zalubowski / AP

Williams crossed the required 50% threshold on the third ballot after being endorsed by one of his competitors, indicted former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who had failed to surpass 10%. Peters faces seven felony charges for her alleged role in illegally accessing voting machines in her county. She has denied the allegations while becoming a prominent national figure in the election conspiracy movement.

A three-term state representative from a conservative district in the city of Colorado Springs, Williams unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Doug Lamborn in the Republican primary last year. The Colorado Secretary of State's office rejected his effort to include a popular conservative phrase denigrating President Joe Biden in his name on the ballot. A judge agreed Williams could not be known as Dave "Let's Go Brandon" Williams.

In his speech to nearly 400 hardcore Republican activists and party leaders, Williams reprised the themes he hit during his campaign - that the party's recent poor performance in Colorado is simply due to it not fighting hard enough, not any disconnect between its activists and the majority of the state's voters.

"Our party doesn't have a brand problem," Williams told the group. "Our party has a problem with feckless leaders. ... We need a wartime leader."

Election deniers have won three other state party chair positions recently - in Idaho, Kansas and Michigan - and as his party is reeling from a brutal 2022 election year.

Republicans lost every statewide election last year by double digits and are down to their lowest share of the state Legislature in Colorado history. They have not won a major statewide race since 2014 and lag well behind Democrats and unaffiliated voters in registration.

Like six of the seven candidates who ran, Williams advocated trying to overturn a ballot measure that requires the party to allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in its primary. All of the candidates except Kevin McCarney, a former Mesa County party chairman, expressed skepticism that Biden legitimately won the 2020 election.

Williams' main rival ended up being Erik Aadland, a combat veteran and political novice who ran an unsuccessful race for a congressional swing seat in the Denver suburbs last year. Although he's also questioned the 2020 election results, he advocated for discussing elections in less aggressive language and based his speech Saturday around the theme of how "love trumps hate."

Still, he also spoke in combative terms about how the party should move forward after Williams' selection.

"We are besought by a radical left that wants to destroy this country, and we need to come together and win elections," Aadland told the crowd.

By NICHOLAS RICCARDI Associated Press 

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