DENVER—You could call Tuesday’s outcome in the Pueblo recall election a classic case of David versus Goliath, except that David actually had a sling and a rock.
When 28-year-old Victor Head decided in March to take on Democratic state Sen. Angela Giron, he had virtually nothing: No money, no college degree, no support from national or state gun-rights groups, and probably no clue as to what he was getting himself into.
All he had was a firm and unshakable belief that the Democratic state legislature’s sweeping gun-control bills were wrong. And, as it turns out, that’s all he needed.
Pueblo voters decided by a margin of 56 to 44 percent to recall Giron in heavily Democratic Senate District 3, a stunning upset in a race that was largely viewed as an also-ran to the recall of Senate President John Morse.
Giron’s loss means that Republican George Rivera, the retired Pueblo deputy police chief, will assume her seat in the state Senate. He received 88 percent of the vote in the second part of the recall ballot against a few write-in candidates.
In her concession speech, Giron was unapologetic about her support for the gun bills. “We will win in the end because we are on the right side,” she said.
To say that Giron was favored to win would be a huge understatement. Pro-Democrat groups poured $3 million into the Giron and Morse recalls, allowing Giron to saturate the inexpensive Pueblo media market with professionally produced television and radio ads.
The Morse recallers were also outgunned, but they did have experienced allies in the form of groups like I Am Created Equal and the Basic Freedom Defense Fund. In Pueblo, Victor Head, his brother Adam Head and their friend Ernest Mascarenas were largely on their own.
They used spray paint to make their “Recall Giron” yard signs because it was cheaper. They auctioned off everything from donated ammunition to umbrellas at their one big fundraiser. They ran their homegrown YouTube ads during midnight reruns of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” because that’s all they could afford.
When the National Rifle Association weighed in with a $250,000 campaign buy in August, the focus was on Colorado Springs, not Pueblo.
Oddly enough, the extreme grassroots nature of the Pueblo recall may have worked to its benefit. For one, it meant the plumbers were badly underestimated by the state’s Democratic Party machine when they began collecting signatures.
“I remember [former state Rep.] Sal Pace, the day after I filed the petition and started collecting [signatures], said ‘I predict they get maybe plus or minus 3,000 signatures.’ We ended up with 13,000. And that was their arrogance,” said Head.
When Democrats did finally start to counter the Pueblo recall effort, it may have been too late. By then, the recallers had spent weeks putting out their message, largely through social media and word of mouth. Whether anyone outside Pueblo realized it, the plumbers were controlling the narrative.
“The fact that they brushed us off really worked in our favor,” said Head. “We got to talk to the people first and got our side of it out.”
Head insisted throughout the campaign that even though the Senate District 3 was dominated by Democrats, they weren’t Denver or Boulder Democrats. Rather, they were blue-collar Democrats who owned guns, enjoyed hunting and bristled at the state legislature’s gun-control agenda.
Giron was also vulnerable on other issues, including her vote in favor of Senate Bill 252, which doubled the renewable-energy mandate on rural customers, some of whom live in Senate District 3. Americans for Prosperity-Colorado ran an issue campaign in the district focused on energy, not guns.
“Coloradans in Senate District 3 sent a clear message that out of touch politicians who blatantly ignore their constituents will be held accountable,” said Americans for Prosperity-Colorado state director Dustin Zvonek in a statement.
Democrats never quite struck the right tone in their attacks on Pueblo Freedom and Rights. One Giron ad called the plumbers “special interests from Denver,” a theme that never gained traction. Morse tried to dismiss Head as an “unemployed plumber” in an interview on MSNBC.
On Tuesday night, however, it was Head who had the final word. “And I have a message for John Morse,” said Head, according to the Pueblo Chieftain. “Who’s unemployed now?”