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December 07, 2023 11:39 AM UTC

The Growing Republican ClusterBuck in CO-04

  • by: Colorado Pols

As you probably already know, Congressman Ken Buck (R-Greeley) is among the more than three dozen Republican incumbents in Congress who are not seeking re-election in 2024. That makes the fourth congressional district one of the more interesting races to watch in Colorado — at least through a Republican Primary Election — in an otherwise unremarkable election year.

We previewed the coming clusterBuck back in September, and it’s time to take another look at who’s in, who’s out, and who else might be on the way. Remember, CO-04 is the most heavily-Republican district in Colorado; in the 2020 Presidential election, Donald Trump carried the fourth congressional district by 30 points, and no Democratic challenger ever came within 20 points of defeating Buck in five election cycles. Whoever wins the Republican Primary Election in June will almost certainly become the next Congressperson from CO-04, so we’re not going to bother speculating on the General Election.

Who’s In

Trent Leisy’s hat for 2024!

Four Republicans have officially filed as candidates in 2024:

  • Deborah Flora
    Former radio host and failed 2022 U.S. Senate candidate was the first recognizable name in the race.
  • Richard Holtorf
    State Representative from Akron likely would have run against Buck anyway.
  • Trent Leisy
    The guy with the “MAGA KING” hat. That’s pretty much all anyone knows about him.
  • Justin Schreiber

Two other Republicans have publicly announced campaigns but have not (as of this writing) officially filed federal paperwork:

Jerry Sonnenberg will probably want a different slogan.

Expected to announce sometime soon:

  • Mike Lynch
    State House Minority Leader is reportedly going to run, since nothing would be worse than his current job.


Who’s Out

  • Pat Neville
    Former State House Minority Leader is close with Ted Harvey and won’t run against his friend.
  • George Brauchler
    Former District Attorney and current radio host is instead waiting to run for DA in a new judicial district.
  • Steve Reams
    Weld County Sheriff was quick to say “no thanks.”
  • Barbara Kirkmeyer
    State Senator and 2022 candidate in CO-08 said “no” in September.
  • Greg Brophy
    Former state lawmaker and Buck’s first Chief of Staff in CO-04 has been clear about not running.


Dumber things have (probably) happened

Still Pondering

  • Lora Thomas
    Embattled Douglas County Commissioner is rumored to have commissioned a poll and really wants to run.
  • Heidi Ganahl
    We know Ganahl had talks with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), but she’s been quiet lately.


Probably Out

These folks had been discussed as potential candidates but haven’t done much to indicate a real campaign:

  • Kristi Burton Brown
    Former State GOP Chair who presided over disastrous 2022 election cycle is focused on a state school board race.
  • Gino Campana
    Failed 2022 U.S. Senate candidate was reportedly considering running, but has been quiet since floating the idea in late October.
  • Abe Laydon
    Douglas County Commissioner has been doing the “lots of people want me to run” dance, but there’s no real path for him.


How This All Shakes Out

The CO-04 Primary could look a lot like this CO-05 GOP Primary in 2006.

As we’ve discussed before in this space, the 2024 GOP Primary in this district is similar in a lot of ways to the CO-05 Republican Primary in 2006 that produced zombie Doug Lamborn. A total of 56,092 Republican Primary voters decided on six candidates in that race, with Lamborn capturing 27% of the vote; a measly 15,126 voters put Lamborn in Congress for life, essentially, in a Colorado Springs district that has long been a GOP stronghold.

More Republicans will likely cast ballots next June than voted in Colorado Springs 18 years earlier, but it’s hard to say what turnout will look like given that 1) The 2022 election was the first under new district boundaries in CO-04, and 2) There hasn’t been a competitive Republican Primary in CO-04 since Buck was first elected in 2014. Here are those turnout numbers in a Republican Primary for the sake of discussion:


Buck had no trouble winning a four-way Primary in 2014, capturing 44% of the vote against three other challengers (Scott Renfroe, Barbara Kirkmeyer, and Steve Laffey). Buck was essentially the anointed candidate at the time, running just a few years after his narrow 2010 loss for U.S. Senate against Democrat Michael Bennet. There is no obvious parallel in 2024, though Sonnenberg probably starts as the favorite in part because of his long history as a state lawmaker in the area.

Handicapping the June Primary depends a lot on how many Republicans end up making the ballot; more paths to victory open up as the number of competitive candidates increases. A maximum of three candidates can qualify for the Primary Ballot through the Republican caucus/assembly process (the threshold for ballot access is 30% of the vote), but it’s probably more likely that only two people make it through that route.

Colorado’s fourth congressional district

Petitioning onto the ballot is relatively easy in a Congressional district. Candidates need to collect about 1,200 signatures from registered Republican voters in CO-04 (10% of the 2022 Primary Election total). If you can’t do that, then you really have no business running for Congress anyway.

It’s a good bet that at least six Republican candidates will qualify for the June Primary ballot. Leisy and Schrieber have dual problems of being virtually unknown and having to explain their respective criminal histories, but the barrier for entry is so low that they could each get their names on the ballot. Flora, Holtorf, Sonnenberg, Harvey, Thomas, and Lynch should all (theoretically) have the ability to vote for themselves in June. Ganahl and Campana can self-fund a campaign and get their names onto the ballot even if they wait to formally launch a campaign until January.

History and Murphy’s Law suggest that not all of these folks will actually make it to June, but it’s not at all unreasonable that the Primary Ballot could include eight different names. If there are eight candidates and voter turnout is about similar to 2022, then the winner could cruise toward the General Election with somewhere in the neighborhood of 16,000 votes. For comparison, you could win a city council race in Denver with about 10,000 votes.

The bottom line is that there are a LOT of different paths to victory for Republican hopefuls in CO-04. It’s going to be a wild six months for residents from Douglas County in the south all the way up to the Colorado border in the northeast.


2 thoughts on “The Growing Republican ClusterBuck in CO-04

  1. Surely there are a few more who would like to gamble some time and car mileage for a chance at a $174,500 per year job.  Wouldn't even need to relocate (but it probably would be a good idea if the effort made a winner).  

    What's Greg Lopez doing these days? 

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