El Paso County Commissioner and 2016 Republican Senate nominee Darryl Glenn may very well have been the worst statewide candidate in Colorado history. Amazingly, there were 12 other GOP candidates who might have been worse. In a year in which Republicans had huge electoral gains across the country, a ridiculously bad group of candidates helped the Colorado GOP to completely botch one of its best pickup opportunities in years.
At one point last spring, there were 13 different Republican candidates seeking the nomination for U.S. Senate. Before you read any further, let’s play a little game: How many Senate candidates can you name?
Robert Blaha, Ryan Frazier, Darryl Glenn, Jack Graham, Jon Keyser, Peg Littleton, Jerry Natividad, Tim Neville, Michael Kinlaw, Tom Janice, Charlie Ehler, Jerry Eller, and Don Rosier. All of these people, to one degree or another, made an effort to capture the GOP Senate nomination in 2016. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet was considered to be the top pickup opportunity for Republicans in the entire country, which caused virtually every member of the Colorado GOP to start dreaming about becoming a U.S. Senator. The only thing Republicans couldn’t find was a top-tier candidate who could actually give Bennet a run for his seat.
It was clear from the first debate of the cycle — held at the University of Denver — that this was going to be a long nomination process for Republicans. Go back and read our “Debate Diary” from February if you forgot just how completely insane this field had become.
The Republican field of candidates for U.S. Senate was such a mess that people like Jerry Natividad were jumping into the race just one month before the state GOP convention. Republican strategists were scrambling trying to find a candidate — any candidate — who could pose a serious challenge to Bennet in November. Eventually, they just ran out of rocks to look underneath.
By April, national pundits were already changing their tune on Bennet and moving the race into the “Likely Democratic” range of outcomes. Weeks later, the little-known Glenn inexplicably took control of the GOP Senate race by virtue of being the only candidate to emerge from the State Convention with enough votes to get his name on the primary ballot. State Senator Tim Neville, who once seemed likely to carry the right-wing banner in 2016, never even came close to just earning ballot access.
By May, the GOP field had narrowed to five names: Robert Blaha, Ryan Frazier, Jon Keyser, Jack Graham, and Darryl Glenn. Graham limped onto the June ballot through the petition process, followed by Keyser, Blaha, and Frazier, though the last three had to deal with lingering questions about petition signatures. National Republicans were crossing their fingers that Keyser could put together a decent-enough campaign to get him through the GOP Primary, but his campaign soon imploded in spectacular fashion amid questions about forged petition signatures and the candidate’s absolutely-epic meltdown in front of Denver7 reporter Marshall Zelinger.
The five Senate campaigns muddled along toward June — at one point Blaha’s campaign manager abruptly resigned with just a few weeks remaining, and Keyser’s campaign essentially just stopped functioning altogether. Glenn ended up winning the five-way Primary with 37.5% of the vote, thanks in part to a late surge of support from well-known conservative names such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
National Republicans basically threw in the towel on Colorado’s Senate race soon after Glenn’s surprising Primary victory; it was clear just a few weeks later that nobody was going to make any real effort to assist Glenn, who consistently trailed by as much as 18 points in head-to-head polls with Bennet.
Bennet ended up defeating Glenn by six points in November, a margin much closer than polls predicted in large part because Bennet’s campaign never even really tried to go after the GOP challenger (it’s silly to argue that Glenn could have won this race with more help from Republicans, because any such movement would only have prompted Democrats to push harder). On the plus side, Glenn’s campaign did provide us with one of the most ridiculous political advertisements in recent memory.
Michael Bennet ran a solid re-election campaign in a difficult year for Democrats, but Colorado Republicans will be kicking themselves for years at missing this opportunity to at least run a competitive challenge to an incumbent Democrat.