DENVER—Mike Kopp entered the race for the Republican gubernatorial nod last week, and even if you don’t remember much about him from his days in the state Senate, you can’t forget his story.
Kopp was an up-and-coming Republican who resigned as Senate Minority Leader in 2011 after the tragic death of his wife from cancer, putting his political career on hold in order to care for his four young children.
That was the low point for Kopp, but things have changed. Kopp has since remarried, his kids are a little older, and he’s increasingly worried about Colorado’s direction, particularly when it comes to the economy.
“You have college students who’ve entered their professional career—this is the only economy they’ve ever known, and it’s been a lousy economy,” said Kopp in a launch video released last week. “It’s been an economy that’s been defined by government largesse, government asking for more, wanting to do more, and that’s not the America that we all know, that’s not the Colorado we all want.”
The challenge for Kopp will be getting noticed. He joins a primary field stacked with big personalities: state Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray), Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former Rep. Tom Tancredo.
A former Army Ranger, Kopp may be every bit as conservative, but he probably has the lowest name-recognition in the pack of candidates seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“On the substance, he’s similar to the other candidates. It’s more his emphasis and personality,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli. “He’s a little quieter, a little more thoughtful. The real challenge for him is how does he break out of a four-person field.”
Kopp, the corporate-affairs manager for Intermountain Rural Electric Association, may be the candidate best positioned to appeal to the business community. He’s known for his support for the private sector and his opposition to what he sees as job-killing government regulations, starting with the Affordable Care Act.
In his video, Kopp notes that he “led the fight to keep Obamacare out of Colorado.” He says his first act as governor would be to repeal the “excessive gun laws that were just passed,” referring to the three gun-control bills signed in March by Hickenlooper.
“We want to get back to a prosperous economy, and I just see that as a moral obligation of this generation,” said Kopp. “It’s time now to put the government back to work for us.”
Kopp also enjoys a geographic plus: He’s been elected from Littleton in Jefferson County, which has emerged as a crucial swing county in recent elections.
In the state legislature, he was known more for building alliances on issues than tossing grenades at his political foes.
“He wasn’t a dissident, he wasn’t a bomb-thrower,” said Ciruli. “And he’s from the suburbs, which used to be the Republican base but where Democrats are now having success. If he can carry his district, obviously that’s an asset.”
Republican strategist Dick Wadhams, who’s not affiliated with any of the candidates, said Kopp may be able to distinguish himself as the solid if unspectacular alternative for voters seeking a less fiery breed of conservative.
“I think Mike’s temperament will be attractive to voters. He comes across as a nice guy, and obviously his personal story would be compelling to voters,” said Wadhams. “He’s kind of a blank canvas for a majority of Republicans, and that can be good or bad.”