The failure of Colorado Republicans to field a credible challenger to incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in 2016, as we’ve discussed, was an historic missed opportunity–in what we now know was a much stronger election for Republican candidates across the nation than anyone (other than Vladimir Putin, apparently) could have predicted. Republican U.S. Senate nominee Darryl Glenn finished within six points of Bennet, where he had been expected to lose by double digits, and it is mathematically possible that a better-qualified Republican candidate could have rode that unexpectedly closer margin a few more points to victory.
But it didn’t happen, and the series of events that destroyed the candidate openly favored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in the GOP U.S. Senate primary in May of 2016 may well be the reason why Bennet is still a U.S. Senator. On January 11th, 2016, first-term state Rep. Jon Keyser announced his resignation from the the legislature to focus on running for the U.S. Senate. Keyser, an attorney and a decorated combat veteran, had by this point already impressed kingmakers in Washington, D.C. sufficiently to obtain potentially field-clearing tacit support in a primary field of generally minor candidates.
Keyser made what turned out to be a fateful decision to qualify for the ballot via petition instead of going through the Republican Party’s caucus process, which is how eventual primary victor Darryl Glenn qualified for the ballot in dramatic fashion at the party’s state assembly. But the petition process proved troublesome, not just for Keyser but for three candidates–who ultimately had to sue to get on the ballot, arguing that basic democratic rights trumped technicalities about the signatures and petition gatherers employed by the campaign. In the end, Keyser was on the ballot, and for his powerful supporters that was all that was needed.
That is, until Denver7 investigative reporter Marshall Zelinger started knocking on doors.