The 2022 U.S. Senate race in Colorado got a bit more interesting last week, with two new Republican candidates joining the field: Ft. Collins developer Gino Campana and State Rep. Ron Hanks (R-Penrose). There are now six Republicans running for the chance to lose to incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet next November. If this week is any indication of things to come, the Republican Senate Primary is going to be one long race to the bottom.
Let’s start with the candidates, who at this point are separated into two different tiers. Hanks, Campana, and Eli Bremer make up the first tier of “plausible” candidates because they have at least some name ID and/or ability to raise money for a real campaign. Erik Aadland, Peter Yu, and Juli Henry fall into a separate tier; we’d be surprised if any of these three candidates even managed to get their name onto the June 2022 Primary ballot, so we won’t spend any time discussing them in this space.
For now, at least, the race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination looks like a three candidate affair.
The most interesting name in the primary tier is Hanks, the copy machine killer who immediately lays claim to the far-right wing in a Republican Primary. Hanks is a full-on election fraud truther, QAnon believer, and proud member of the Donald Trump fan club who has been outspoken in his defense of Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters and has made pilgrimages to 2020 recount sites such as Arizona’s Maricopa County. As you can see from his campaign launch video, Hanks is going to largely focus on two issues: “Election security” and the Second Amendment. Head on over to the ‘Issues’ page on his campaign website for more policy proposals, which are entertaining to the extent that you can make sense of the rambling rhetoric.
Whether or not Hanks can mount a truly competitive campaign will depend on his ability to raise money, which is unclear at the moment. But his very existence as a Senate candidate changes the dynamic of this race. This is a guy who has no qualms about making a lynching joke on the floor of the House of Representatives. He’ll be traveling the state in the next 9 months to hoover up support from the right-wing base, which is going to scare other candidates into taking positions that are more extreme than they might have preferred…
…which brings us to Eli Bremer. We haven’t heard much from Bremer since he first entered the Senate race in July with a clunky video that lacked any real semblance of a message beyond telling people that he is a former Olympian who competed in an event that most people probably didn’t even know existed. The inclusion of Hanks and Campana in the GOP field seems to have prompted Bremer to take things up a notch.
As Ernest Luning reports for the publication formerly known as The Colorado Statesman, Bremer’s campaign announced this week a slate of “county coordinators” that is mostly designed to affirm that Bremer already has a share of the nutty right-wing base:
One of Bremer’s county ambassadors drew national attention in 2014 when he questioned whether the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., “really happened.” [Pols emphasis]
Tom Ready, a dentist and former chairman of the Pueblo County GOP, defended floating a theory that the shooting had in fact been a hoax designed to promote gun control during a debate when he was running for county commissioner.
“Whether it’s true or not, it’s called an open discussion,” Ready said, though he later apologized for the comments.
This is how far things have fallen for Republicans: One of their most plausible Senate candidates literally sought out the endorsement of Tom Ready, who thinks it’s totally cool to have a “discussion” about the idea that a mass shooting of schoolchildren was just a mirage. Bremer may not be familiar with his recent Colorado political history, because having Ready’s support has not generally been a good thing (ask Bob Beauprez). Ready has a long background in Colorado Republican politics, including plenty of allegations of racism and domestic violence. If you seek out this endorsement, it means you want the support of the kind of people who would take Tom Ready seriously. How does this help Bremer if he eventually has to appeal to a wider range of voters in a General Election? (SPOILER ALERT: It doesn’t).
Ready isn’t the only questionable name on Bremer’s “county coordinator” list. Also included is Joe Webb, the former chair of the Jefferson County Republican Party who regularly referred to Democrats like Jared Polis as “brown shirts,” (a reference to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi militia); and Don Suppes, the Delta County Commissioner who is known to be a fan of white supremacist websites and a believer in the silly conspiracy idea that the United Nations is coming to take your guns. Again, these are the type of supporters that Bremer is TOUTING in a press release. If you’re standing with Bremer, you’re standing on the same side as these folks.
The third plausible Republican Senate candidate is Gino Campana, a Ft. Collins developer and former city council member whose braggadocio about almost being selected as Walker Stapleton’s Lieutenant Governor nominee in 2018 caused significant media problems for the GOP gubernatorial hopeful. Campana is rumored to have the ability to self-fund a Senate race to some degree, which is the primary “qualification” that separates him from the rest of the GOP field.
Campana launched his Senate intentions this week with the release of a meandering three-minute video (titled “I am running for US Senate”) that looks more like a commercial for Ancestry.com than a campaign announcement. Campana’s launch video is mostly about his immigrant father — you don’t even see the name ‘Gino Campana’ until the :33 second mark — interspersed with images of Gino fiddling around with odd pieces of masonry as part of a tortured effort to come across as a regular guy in a plaid shirt.
The winner of the Republican Senate Primary will likely be the candidate who is best able to garner support from the right-wing base. This fact alone will put the eventual GOP nominee in an impossible position for a General Election; there is no realistic Venn diagram in which fire-breathing adherents of “The Big Lie” join with Unaffiliated voters in backing the same candidate in November 2022.
Former Sen. Cory Gardner set the bar pretty low for future Republican Senate candidates with his 9-point loss to Democrat John Hickenlooper in 2020. Don’t be surprised if the 2022 GOP candidates still manage to limbo underneath.