DENVER—Voters looking for cautious, mild-mannered Republicans in the 2014 gubernatorial primary won’t find much to choose from in the current crop of feisty, outspoken conservatives vying for the nomination.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler became the latest battler to enter the fray with his announcement Tuesday, and wasted no time drawing a sharp contrast between himself and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“Let’s take our governor. Our state is adrift and it’s headed toward decline, and what does our governor stand for? Well, we found out his vision was TBD—that’s ‘to be determined,’” said Gessler. “Can you imagine Steve Jobs saying that the future of Apple is to be determined?”
Gessler said the governor was “channeling Mark Twain’s old joke: ‘Never put off til tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow,’” adding, “Friends, that is not leadership. That is political expediency.”
Gessler joins former Rep. Tom Tancredo and state Sen. Greg Brophy in seeking the GOP nomination in an election cycle that looks increasingly promising for Republicans. Analysts say last week’s recall of two Democratic state senators, combined with Hickenlooper’s shaky poll numbers, could signal a backlash against the Democratic Party’s recent grip on state politics.
More announcements could be forthcoming as other Republicans consider joining the gubernatorial primary race, including former state Sen. Mike Kopp and Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler.
It’s a dramatically different strategy than the one Republicans adopted in 2010, when they cleared the primary field for former Rep. Scott McInnis. That approach backfired when McInnis became embroiled in a plagiarism scandal that resulted in the nomination of little-known candidate Dan Maes.
This time, the challenge for Republicans will be to avoid a scenario in which candidates in a crowded primary turn on each other and leave a badly damaged winner to compete against Hickenlooper in the general election.
Many conservatives are taking a wait-and-see approach to the primary, but Gessler did receive the endorsements of two prominent Republicans, former Rep. Bob Schaffer and state Rep. Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff.
Speaking to a crowd of about 100 supporters at the University of Denver’s Cable Center, Gessler focused on his own life story—his boyhood in Detroit and Chicago, followed by his move 17 years ago to Colorado “in search of new and better life”—and touted his accomplishments during his term as Secretary of State, including promoting innovation and technology while reducing fees on businesses.
At the same time, Gessler pounded the Democratic governor on issues that will undoubtedly become staples of the campaign, namely his signing of liberal gun-control and energy legislation along with his granting of an indefinite reprieve to Death Row inmate Nathan Dunlap.
“This governor has hurt our state. The governor claimed to be a moderate, but that’s not the case. At every step, he’s allied himself with a hard partisan legislature,” said Gessler. “He sided with violent criminals—he gave a reprieve to one of Colorado’s most ruthless mass murderers.”
He also blamed Hickenlooper for the 51st state movement in rural Colorado. “Under his administration, people are angry and divided. Many of our fellow Coloradans want to break away from Colorado,” said Gessler.
Gessler didn’t have an easy first term himself, feuding with liberal groups over ethics charges and tangling with Democrats on his efforts to fight voter fraud. At some point, he picked up the nickname “the honey badger,” which he has since embraced.
He concluded his remarks Tuesday by declaring, “My name is Scott Gessler, I’m running for governor, and this honey badger is ready to fight.”