DENVER (AP) — Hoping to end a long electoral dry spell, Colorado Republicans vote Tuesday for a candidate to face Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in November. Their nominee will carry the GOP's hopes to try to dispel the perception that the state continues trending blue.
But their pick will contend with a large fundraising advantage by Hickenlooper, and it remains to be seen whether the GOP establishment can unify behind the winner, particularly if it's former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo — a controversial figure even among Republicans.
"I haven't even decided whether to return my ballot," Republican voter Ken Ortman said with a sigh Tuesday morning at a Denver coffee shop. "I'm fed up with all of them."
The GOP last held the governor's office in 2006, and over the past eight years Republicans have been in the minority in the Colorado Senate and controlled the state House for only two years. Latino voters and suburban women who helped President Barack Obama carry the state twice have also boosted state Democrats, prompting the GOP dry spell.
Republicans will decide among four candidates: Tancredo, former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, and former state Sen. Mike Kopp.
None of the Republicans has emerged as an obvious front-runner, but Democrats have made clear they prefer Hickenlooper face Tancredo. Democratic strategists consider Tancredo's strong opposition to illegal immigration — and incendiary comments he's made on the subject — as a liability in a general election.
"I think Tancredo would have a tough time," said voter Tony Ranalli, a Democratic voter from Tancredo's hometown of Lakewood. Ranalli didn't vote Tuesday — there was little at stake in his party — but he was rooting for a Tancredo selection. "Someone like him plays well I'm sure with the conservative base, but as a general candidate, not as much."
Tancredo lost to Hickenlooper in 2010, when he ran as the Constitution Party candidate, underscoring his contentious relationship with his own party.
Beauprez lost badly in 2006 against Democrat Bill Ritter, but many establishment Republicans still see him as having the best chance against Hickenlooper. This is the first attempt by Gessler and Kopp.
There wasn't much polling on the primary, and turnout was expected to be low. As of Monday, 311,558 Republican voters had cast ballots. There are about 1.1 million registered Republicans in Colorado.
Democrats are slightly behind with just under 1.1. million. Independents — the prize bloc for each party — lead the way with nearly 1.3 million registered voters.
The mix means successful primary candidates must win without alienating independent voters to stand a chance in the general election.
A Quinnipiac University poll from late April showed Hickenlooper leading all potential opponents substantially, with Tancredo being within the closest striking distance with a 47-40 margin.
Despite that, many Republicans see Tancredo as a GOP spoiler who could harm the party in other races on the ballot — including the U.S. Senate contest between Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall and Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner.
All of this is not lost on Tancredo, who said his campaign was going, "Bizarrely."
Tancredo said he's only gone through one other primary, but "I wasn't getting attacked by Republicans, Democrats, independents, pro-gay, anti-gay, pro-life, pro-abortion, you name it."
Tancredo expressed confidence that he can appeal to independents, but said he needs his party's backing if he emerges as the primary winner.
"If they do not want to actually coalesce around my candidacy, we will not be successful in November. There's no two ways about that," he said.
Hickenlooper has raised nearly $3 million for his re-election bid, and he has about $1 million of it on hand.
Tancredo raised the most money among Republicans, with $793,000, followed by Gessler, with $535,000. Beauprez raised $306,000 and loaned himself about $500,000. Kopp raised $266,000.
By IVAN MORENO, Associated Press
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