The Denver Post’s John Frank has a good story up this week on the large field of relatively low-level Republican candidates now competing for the chance to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in this year’s U.S. Senate race. Frank’s story is doing a good job defining the players early for a national audience unfamiliar with most of them, in part by aligning them with quasi-equivalent presidential candidates who are offering similar messages:
The presidential contest is defining the early outlook on Colorado’s race, creating an opening for a political outsider, putting the focus on national security and foreshadowing a messy campaign in the months ahead.
“You are going to end up seeing some similar factionalism and similar rhetoric coming out of the Senate candidates,” said Ryan Call, the former state GOP chairman. “And it will be difficult to reconcile those ideological factions and get them to pull together in support of the nominee for president or U.S. Senate.” [Pols emphasis]
The candidate that emerges from the Republican Senate primary will influence the party’s chances for victory in November, up and down the ballot.
In a separate blog post, Frank outlines the similarities between the messages of presidential and Colorado U.S. Senate candidates: Ryan Frazier with Ben Carson, Peggy Littleton and Carly Fiorina, as well as Marco Rubio with Jon Keyser and either Rand Paul or Ted Cruz with Tim Neville. Some of these comparisons strike us as a little…well, superficial, but there are some valid parallels between the messages of Rubio and Keyser–like there are with Cruz and Neville. Cruz and Rubio are also the two candidates working the hardest to win support in Colorado, with Jeb! Bush flatlining and Donald Trump having little presence here away from television screens.
Frank oddly doesn’t mention this, but the same Republican strategists who are working in Colorado on behalf of Rubio, including Rob Witwer and Josh Penry, are also principally responsible for elevating Jon Keyser. The trouble for Keyser’s supporters is that Keyser has not made anything like the room-clearing splash with his entry into the race that Cory Gardner did in 2014–indeed, news of Keyser getting in the race was met with more candidates jumping in, not a field looking to clear for him in any way. At this point Keyser is totally undifferentiated from the rest of the dozen candidates in the primary, except for some negatives Democrats pinned on him right out of the gate–and that’s not good news for his handlers.
On the other hand, Neville’s built-in advantage in this race is increasingly evident. Neville didn’t raise a stellar amount in his first partial quarter–around $120k–but it was certainly enough to launch a functional primary campaign. Neville’s real strength lies in the ideologically committed and fiercely loyal “Tea Party” and gun activist grassroots that look to him as a leader–and with Colorado Republicans in a continuing state of internal strife, Neville is perhaps in a position to wield more power today than any other individual Colorado Republican.
Looking ahead, we do think the “clown car” will drop most of its passengers in the coming months. We would nonetheless expect as of now to see 4-5 candidates on the June primary ballot, with the final battle coming down to Neville versus either Keyser, Littleton, or self-funding Colorado Springs businessman Robert Blaha. Should any significant candidates either rise to prominence out of the current pack or enter the race, Keyser is the one with the most to lose, with Neville’s base being the least transferable.
All told, and for a host of good reasons, it’s Neville’s race to lose as of this writing.