What’s the quickest way to make a dozen people disappear? Schedule a Republican Party caucus in Colorado.
At Tuesday’s GOP caucuses, the 2016 U.S. Senate race was about as popular as a “Hillary for President” button. There are 13 candidates seeking the Republican nomination for Senate and the right to challenge incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet in November, but Colorado Republicans seemed largely uninformed and uninterested about the race, as Marianne Goodland of the Colorado Independent reports:
What many ignored at the GOP caucus I attended at Bear Creek High School was one critical national race these voters could influence — which of roughly 13 Republican U.S. Senate candidates would make it to the ballot. The subject was briefly mentioned, then dropped.
This particular precinct caucus took place in the district of the national GOP establishment’s favored Senate hopeful Jon Keyser, indicating his run against Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet might be irrelevant to the grassroots, who focused on the Donald Trump-Ted Cruz-Marco Rubio triumvirate instead.
A few pieces of campaign literature from four of 13 Senate candidates sat on a table. They were there when people entered to caucus. They were there when people left.
The event opened with an explanation of why voters wouldn’t choose a presidential nominee, and that their business was in choosing delegates. But caucus goers quickly concluded they wanted their delegates to know what they thought, and that meant rebelling against the state party mandate and talking about the national GOP candidates.
No doubt there are some exceptions here, but Goodland’s reporting echoes much of what we heard from around the state after Tuesday evening. “Indifference” is almost too strong a word to describe the GOP mood toward the plethora of Senate candidates (not) seeking their support. When and where the subject did come up, as noted by Ernest Luning of the Colorado Statesman, state Sen. Tim Neville outpolled the rest of the GOP field by himself:
— Ernest Lee Luning (@eluning) March 2, 2016
— Ernest Lee Luning (@eluning) March 2, 2016
Some of this was to be expected, since Colorado Republicans had decided not to hold an official preference poll for Presidential candidates and because only a handful of GOP senate candidates are seeking to make the ballot via the caucus route. But we’ve heard the same story repeatedly now: There was virtually no discussion about the GOP Senate candidates at last night’s caucuses, and little to no organizing from most of the field at even the most conservative precincts.
Volunteers handing out literature? Sorry.
You’d have been hard-pressed on Tuesday to find a Colorado Republican who could even name more than one Senate candidate. Whatever the rest of the field has been doing up until now…well, let’s just say it isn’t working.
Colorado Republicans have every reason to be very worried about the complete lack of interest in the U.S. Senate race. As the Denver Post and others reported, GOP caucus turnout was as strong – if not moreso – than it has ever been. Turnout wasn’t the problem on Tuesday.
Only three major Republican candidates are seeking to make the ballot via the caucus route (Neville, Peg Littleton, and Darryl Glenn), with others such as Jack Graham, Robert Blaha, and Jon Keyser hoping to earn a spot on the June 28 Primary ballot by collecting the requisite number of signatures from across the state. We’ve long written in this space that Neville is the clear favorite to win the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, and reports from Tuesday’s caucuses make it increasingly hard to argue for anyone else.
The rest of the field is simply running out of time. Candidates who are going the petition route for ballot access have until April 4 to submit 10,500 valid petition signatures (1,500 from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts). Primary ballots must be printed by May 27 and will go out in the mail the first week of June.
All told, there are about 9 weeks between April 4 and the time that ballots start going out to Primary voters. As of today, Republican candidates for Senate have less than 14 weeks before people start voting. By the time Republicans start voting for U.S. Senate, the GOP will have held its county, congressional, and statewide assembly meetings, which is a lot of free space for Neville to make himself known to voters.
In other words, any Republican who hopes to beat Neville needs to a) Make the ballot, b) Introduce themselves to voters, and c) Make a credible argument for support…all by roughly the same time that school gets out for the summer.
Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? Eh, not so much.