BROOMFIELD — Young Guns has come to Colorado. No, not the movie about Billy the Kid with Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen. In this case it’s a Colorado version of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) successful candidate support program known as “Young Guns.”
The local version, dubbed “Trailblazers,” was announced in early April by the Colorado Republican Party and is designed to support Republican candidates for the state legislature.
Colorado is one of two states nationally to replicate the program on the state level, with California being the other.
The program works in much the same way as Young Guns, with three levels of recognition — “On the Radar,” “Contender,” and finally “Trailblazer” — with the final category qualifying candidates for financial support from the state party. To reach each level campaigns must meet internal fundraising and organizational benchmarks set by the state GOP.
“The Trailblazer Program is designed to assist candidates through benchmarks and goals in order to run strong and effective campaigns for the state legislature,” said Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call. “This program will allow our candidates to show their campaign’s strength and be better prepared to increase the majority in the State House and take back the majority in the Senate.”
Despite the incentive of campaign cash, Colorado Republican Party Executive Director Chuck Poplstein emphasized that it’s not a fundraising program, but is instead meant to help candidates develop “more efficient and focused campaigns.”
The program, according to those familiar with its creation, is the result of a growing influence of the state party in legislative races. While in previous election cycles the GOP has designated staff to help oversee targeted legislative races, this year’s effort is the earliest and most robust undertaking yet. With the majorities in the State House and Senate up for grabs, no one wants to leave anything to chance.
Whereas in recent years, state legislative candidates have sometimes had a cold, if not downright hostile, relationship with the state party, already this cycle candidates in all of the top targeted races have enrolled in Trailblazers.
Brian Vande Krol, who narrowly lost a state house bid in 2010 and is running in Adams County-based House District 35 this cycle, sees the Trailblazer program as a significant step up from the support he received from state party last time around.
“They are being a lot more proactive in reaching out to candidates,” says Vande Krol.
The program is also not designed as a fundraising vehicle due to campaign finance laws that severely limit the amount of money political parties can spend on legislative races in Colorado.
The maximum a state party can spend on, or in concert with, a legislative candidate is $14,805 for house candidates and $20,500 for senate candidates.
With outside groups expected to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on targeted legislative races, the state GOP and individual candidates often end up being outspent many times over, making it futile to try to keep pace.
That’s not to say the program won’t boost the bottom lines for successful campaigns.
In earning recognition from the Trailblazers program campaigns will be able to demonstrate to potential donors that their money will be well spent. It gives them a “seal of approval” says Senate District 19 candidate Lang Sias.
Beyond fundraising, it also helps candidates ensure their campaigns are operating as professionally as possible. Sias says the program fits well with his military background and its structured culture of constant briefing and debriefing.
“Anytime you subject yourself to something rigorous and detailed by people you respect is incredibly helpful,” says Sias.
That extra set of eyes examining campaign strategy is particularly helpful for first time candidates, like Jennifer George, who is running for El Paso County-based House District 18.
George says she’s glad to have the state party “making sure we’re staying on track.”
The first round of candidates making “On the Radar” status is expected to be announced this week.