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August 04, 2021 08:19 AM UTC

Bid to Opt Out of Open Republican Primaries in CO Is Close to Success, Now With Help From Tancredo, Say Organizers

  • by: Michael Lund

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Tom Tancredo.

As grassroots Republicans continue their statewide road tour to lobby 517 county GOP officers and other central committee members to vote to end open primaries for their party, leaders of that effort are celebrating their successes and the most recent big-name recruit to their cause, Tom Tancredo.

Randy Corporon, Colorado’s Republican National Committeeman, and Chuck Bonniwell, who sits on the state GOP governing committee, updated listeners on Saturday morning during a joint appearance on Corporon’s KNUS conservative talk radio program.

Bonniwell sees open primaries, which allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots for Republican, Democratic, or other candidates, as an existential threat to the survival of the state Republican Party. He believes that the open primary system allows Democratic donors to fund establishment Republicans’ campaigns in the primaries, causing the grassroots Republican candidates to lose.

“They pour all their money into electing RINO Republicans who will sign on to the bills in the legislature,” said Bonniwell. “We lost Patrick Neville as leader because the new group that came in elected Hugh McKean, who loves to work with Democrats and denigrate other Republicans. We will, in two to four years, have no conservative members left.”

September 18 is the deadline for Bonniwell and his fellow GOP activists to convince at least 388 central committee members, or 75%, to vote with them, as required by statute to opt out of open primaries. The central committee, made up of Republican delegates from across Colorado, will meet on that day to determine how Republican nominees will be selected in the future.

Bonniwell is encouraged by his group’s progress in convincing state GOP officers to end open primaries.

“The party is really struggling,” said Bonniwell. “I’ve gone around the state along with Anil Matthai, … Peg Cage, Jimmy Mack, … Ben Nicholas. And we’ve gone to virtually — we’ve done 45 counties, talked to the Republicans, everybody who will meet with us, and it has all of a sudden started to snowball. It is really starting to go because they haven’t seen, often, a[n] executive committee member, ever! And they are desperate in a lot of these places. The economic stress in eastern Colorado is just heartbreaking, if you’ve been out there. But we started to gain a lot of traction. And so the establishment decided, ‘Uh oh! We’d better squash these guys. They look like they’re starting to get enough people to opt out of the primaries and have a Republican run primary.’ … So, we’ve got to get 75% to say ‘yes’ at the September 18th meeting. And obviously we’re threatening [to reach] that [threshold] or they would not have pulled out Jon Caldara and the Independence Institute and all the rest of them to attack us. It means we’re really making a difference.”

Politicos and pundits are weighing in on the prospect of reversing a voter mandate from 2016 which allows for unaffiliated Colorado voters to participate in the party primary election of their choice to determine party nominees for legislative seats, statewide executive offices, and Congressional representatives in the general election.

Last week, Jon Caldara of the conservative think tank Independence Institute wrote a column for The Gazette. And on the same day, The Colorado Sun published a column by Mario Nicholas.

Both columnists punctuated their opposition to the state GOP opting out of open primaries with ominous predictions for the party, which featured words such as ‘death’ and ‘defeat.’

Nicolais is now unaffiliated, but in 2014 he was a Republican candidate for state senate. He lost his primary campaign and was labeled a “RINO” and a “squish” by the opposition. He has previously advocated for centrist Republican candidates as a strategy to win in general elections and to protect minority party rights in the legislature. He has also advocated for a unified, nonpartisan primary with a subsequent 4-person general election ballot based on ranked choice voting, which requires broader support from the electorate in order to win.

Caldara considers himself a “hardcore conservative,” but is taking a pragmatic approach in opposing the open primary opt out. Caldara has stated that moderating extremist positions is necessary to win in Colorado’s general elections with the state’s current demographics. He has never favored open primaries but acknowledges the benefit of courting unaffiliated voters in primary campaigns so as to carry their loyalty and their votes into the general election cycle. He believes that opting out of open primaries would exclude and alienate Republican and unaffiliated voters, the latter group forming the largest contingent of Colorado’s electorate.

Bonniwell pushes back against suggestions that ending open primaries will disenfranchise Republican voters. He rejects the notion that traditional caucuses, typically dominated by party insiders and activists, will be the alternate method to choose GOP nominees. He maintains that the party can set up any sort of system it might prefer, pointing to Virginia’s system of electing nominees via an “unassembled convention.”

Even Kristi Burton Brown, chair of the Colorado Republican Party and a grassroots activist in her teens, has drawn anti-estblishment challenges from Bonniwell.

“The establishment says, ‘Oh, we’ll just do it through caucuses.’ No, we’ll do it through the system we want. They constantly set up straw men. Kristi Burton Brown said she sent out one [memorandum] to all central committee members, saying it [the state party] is neutral, and then gave out this … wrong information, saying, ‘Okay, you’re going to disenfranchise all other Republicans other than caucus goers.’ Wrong! We can set up any system we want, just like Virginia.”

Besides celebrating the alleged success of his lobbying tour across Colorado, Bonniwell also hailed the recently announced support and endorsement of Tom Tancredo to the cause. A controversial politician throughout his long career, Tancredo’s support for the opt-out brings conservative and extremist bonafides to the effort.

“This is a battle for the soul of the Republican Party,” said Bonniwell. “And I’m really happy to announce [that as of] yesterday, Tom Tancredo has joined the battle. He’s decided he’s throwing all his weight for the opt out. And we’ve already got Dave Williams. We’ve already got Ron Hanks. We’ve already got a whole — really — a group of incredible Republicans coming in. And that means that the Republocrats will now come after us even stronger. But what we’re trying to have is, September 18th, we’re trying to get all the people to come in from the hinterlands to Denver … [to] stand up for the principles that people like Donald Trump espouse, and really change this state.”

Tancredo has held many appointed and elected offices, and he ran a dark horse campaign for the presidency of the United States in 2008. He has been labeled a nativist with white supremacist affiliations, sometimes compared to his friend and former Congressional colleague, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who was censured by House leadership for making racist and xenophobic statements.

As a regional representative to the Department of Education under President Ronald Reagan, Tancredo advocated for abolishing that same department entirely from the federal government. In Congress, he was an uncooperative thorn in the side of Republican leadership.

In his 2010 grassroots campaign for Colorado governor as the American Constitution Party nominee, Tancredo simultaneously contributed to Republicans losing both that race and a U.S. Senate race, as well as contributing to the Colorado GOP nearly losing its status and federal funding as a major political party in the state.

As a Republican candidate for Colorado Governor in 2014, Tancredo was forced from the primary race when an establishment GOP group — the Republican Governor’s Association, chaired by former New Jersey governor Chris Christie — bankrolled a vicious ad campaign against him, presumably to open a lane for a more moderate Republican candidate. That eventual GOP nominee, Bob Beauprez, went on to lose to Democrat John Hickenlooper in the general election.

Beauprez is seen as an icon of establishment Republicans in Colorado, and he’s a regular punching bag for grassroots pundits.

Tancredo later established a PAC to hinder Christie’s 2016 presidential bid, and called for Christie to publicly admit his sneaky, underhanded role in undermining Tancredo’s grassroots campaign for governor.

Caldara, Nicolais, Bonniwell, and Corporon all agree that the grassroots faction of Colorado’s Republican Party, or “the crazies” as Corporon referred to them on Saturday’s show, hold the lion’s share of power in the party.

Corporon elaborated: “When I was elected Republican National Committeeman with more votes than the next two establishment candidates, Bill Cadman and Eli Bremmer, … that’s the Republican Central Committee. That’s those delegates voting. And so we know that the people who actually take the time to donate their time to the Republican Party and be a part of this structure are the conservatives that want to see a fighting Republican Party. And all we get in return is, ‘Yeah, but soccer moms,’ [and,] ‘yeah, but messaging.’

Bonniwell responded by saying, “Let me tell you, those soccer moms are outraged by the critical race theory, by the shoving transgenderism down their kids’ throats, and anything else. Those soccer moms are not kind of going, ‘Oh, I love those Democrats! They’re just so great!’ No, they’re outraged. We just have to get away from the donors’ class and the consultants and [we have to] fight for the average Republican in Colorado.”

Listen to Bonniwell’s entire Saturday appearance on KNUS July 31 using the media player below:


29 thoughts on “Bid to Opt Out of Open Republican Primaries in CO Is Close to Success, Now With Help From Tancredo, Say Organizers

  1. The economic stress in eastern Colorado is just heartbreaking, if you’ve been out there. 

    What?!?  ‘Meat In’ Day didn’t solve the economic woes of the region? 

    You couldn’t burn a slice of toast with the collective neurons these yahoos have regarding rural development. 

      1. Actually, on a per capita basis, the population of all counties is identical, Dave.  Which is why the Constitution says one person, one vote, regardless of what county you live in.



    1. Sounds like when the boys finally head out this year again to Shorty’s for their annual day of “Caring About Eastern Colorado/Terrorist Melon Hunt (To Show Soccer Mommies How Much We Really Care)” that it’s likely to turn into a circular firing squad? . . .

      . . . Which, admittedly, is way more fun than dealing with anything resembling reality . . .

      . . . pass the popcorn ammunition! 

      1. Bingo.  Every public policy in the last decade (Amendments 37/64)  that has ignited economic development (wealth creation) to rural  eastern Colorado has been initiated by progressives and vehemently opposed by Republicans.  


      2. When they visit the Yuma County brain trust, one of those farmers experiencing "heartbreaking economic stress" will probably arrive in his new Corvette.  Another may fly in from a northern vacation in his new airplane. The rest of the parking lot will look like the new truck lot at the local Ford dealership.

        Their large, predominantly Republican farmer-base in eastern Colorado is doing just fine (with or without the economic windfall of MeatIn! day)

        Otherwise, heartbreaking.   

        1. To be fair, there are folks on our eastern plains actually suffering heartbreaking economic stress, . . .

          . . . and the two-pronged GOP solution to that, which is exactly the same as for urban sufferers, is — same as it ever was — reduced safety-net programs and unemployment benefits, and increased bootstrap pulling!

          1. That was slightly snarky, Dio. Point being, the Republicans Bonniwell & Co. are engaging with (at least from our local perspective) aren’t the ones experiencing heartbreaking economic stress. There isn’t a cogent idea on rural development amongst them – largely because that would require serious discussions around public policy – maybe even some of those dreaded mandates – and federal dollars as well.

            It’s an equation in which they can’t be participants.

            You forgot all the years smilin’ Cory was promising them affordable health care and a living wage (j/k, Gardner didn’t give a rats ass about a living wage). 

            Also: moderate gun laws *do not* equal heartbreaking economic stress.

          2. “the two-pronged GOP solution to that, which is exactly the same as for urban sufferers, is — same as it ever was — reduced safety-net programs and unemployment benefits, and increased bootstrap pulling”

            That and declare war on masks.

    2. Dio, I wrote this diary over eight years ago about the dismal economic situation for a large swath of eastern Colorado  (CD-4) families.  Not once since, that I can recall, have I heard a single Republican from rural Colorado take up childhood poverty or rural development as an issue. Particularly in those days, in the backwash of the Musgrave era, it was non-stop, “God, Guns and Gays“.  It’s only slightly less “the ghey’s” these days (unless you’re working up the locals into a lather ala Recall 3.0).  

      With no offense to actual clowns, they are nothing but a Studebaker clown car, trying to be relevant in a Tesla world. 

  2. So, how’s that “gotta save the Republicans” effort going? 

    Here’s the change in active registrations from the Secretary of State, measured from just before the general election ended. 

    date……………..actives……share of all actives



    change …………-25,711…

    Democrats?  Numbers are now 1,127,093, down -2,640 registrations and now make up 29.27% of active voters.

  3. Anyone who’s as deeply concerned about the future of the Republican Party in Colorado as I am, has got to be absolutely thrilled that Tancredo has decided he’s saddling up, once again, to help save the GOP!

  4. Does anyone remember who funded/was behind the ” voter mandate from 2016 which allows for unaffiliated Colorado voters to participate in the party primary election of their choice to determine party nominees for legislative seats, statewide executive offices, and Congressional representatives in the general election.?”

    I suspect it was a Republican ploy to ratfuck Democratic primaries, but just asking.

  5. I voted against open primaries.  People who don't donate a dime to either party get to decide who their flag bearer is going to be.  They decided to be unaffiliated so why do they get to decide the most important decision by a party?

    1. The flip side of the argument — the state as a whole is paying for the primary election, so why should only those who affiliate have a voice in the selection of who will be the public servant? 

      I voted for the open primaries out of a consequentialist argument — it was a way to diminish the chances of more extreme candidates. 

      1. Because the Supreme Court has held that, subject to certain limitations where either suspect classifications (i.e., Texas used to hold a whites-only Democratic Party primary up until the 1950's) or the integrity of the voting process was at stake, political parties are associations which under the First Amendment can set their own rules and procedures.

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