The race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate just changed in a big way. As Ernest Luning reports for the Colorado Statesman:
Former CSU athletic director Jack Graham is planning to petition his way onto what could be a crowded Republican primary ballot for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Michael Bennet, and he seeded his run with a $1 million deposit to his campaign account yesterday.
Not only is Graham seeding his campaign with a cool million, he’s bringing on former Republican Party Chair Dick Wadhams as his campaign manager.
We’ll admit that we don’t know a lot about Jack Graham politically, but $1 million and Dick Wadhams is more than enough to shake the foundations of the massive GOP field running for U.S. Senate. Wadhams is no longer the feared political operative who guided Wayne Allard and John Thune into the U.S. Senate, but he does give Graham a legitimacy that he otherwise would have had to work hard to establish on his own.
On the fundraising side, seeding his campaign with a million dollars instantly gives Graham a warchest that the 10-12 other GOP candidates may not be able to match. Graham is a former Athletic Director at CSU, and the job of AD at a major university is largely related to fundraising; Graham no doubt has a hefty rolodex that he can consult as he starts dialing for dollars.
Graham’s loud entry into the Senate race changes some of what we wrote just yesterday in assessing the state of the Republican field of candidates. State Sen. Tim Neville is still in the driver’s seat to win the June Primary because, for one thing, he doesn’t really have to worry about getting his name on the ballot. Neville should have little trouble generating more than 30% of the votes at the State Republican Convention (the minimum amount needed for ballot access), and he’s a known and trusted quantity to many in the far-right base of the GOP.
And then there’s Jon Keyser. To borrow a Trump-ism, Keyser just got schlonged.
Keyser was the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s (NRSC) big recruit for the Senate race, and he pushed all of his chips into the center of the table by resigning his seat in the State Legislature as well as his job at a big Denver law firm. Keyser’s campaign got off to an inauspicious start, with questions about campaigning while on military duty and a general indifference from the media about his chances. The plan was for Keyser to hunker down and raise money — he reportedly had soft offers of support for millions in campaign cash — but Graham, Wadhams, and $1 million may scurry that support in a hurry.
Graham’s entry into the Senate race really changes the math for Keyser. Anybody can try to petition onto the ballot (Graham, Ryan Frazier, and Robert Blaha are already going that route), but it’s a giant pain in the ass and a significant drain on resources, time, and money to go that route. Keyser’s team has already indicated that he will go the petition route, but that assumes that big donors are still onboard with the NRSC’s Keyser experiment following Graham’s bombshell. Remember, there was already a self-funder in the race in Blaha, and Frazier claims to have raised at least $200k, which gives him a good head start on the petition process. Writing a big check to Keyser suddenly looks like a long-shot bet.
Keyser could try to switch strategies and go the convention route, but Republicans don’t really know who he is, and there are — at most — three available ballot spots through the Party. Neville will certainly claim one of those spots, with Peggy Littleton and Darryl Glenn (or someone else) potentially fighting it out for 30%.
With just a few months to go until the June Primary, serious GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate need three things: Ballot Access, Television ads, and enough cash to fuel a staff of at least a half-dozen people. How many Republican candidates can still check all three boxes this morning?
It would seem the only Senate candidate smiling this morning is incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet.