DENVER — State Rep. Amy Stephens announced Thursday that she will drop out of the race for the Republican Senate nomination and throw her support behind Rep. Cory Gardner, but state Sen. Owen Hill says he’s not going anywhere.
Stephens told KNUS-AM’s Dan Caplis in a Thursday morning interview that she wanted to improve the GOP’s chances of defeating Sen. Mark Udall in November, even though the decision to bow out caused her some “heartache.”
“I think for the Democrats, it’s like a bomb probably went off in their midst,” said Stephens. “I think he [Gardner] is going to be a very serious contender to Mark Udall.”
Gardner has yet to make an official announcement, but multiple media outlets and political figures said Wednesday that he would drop his congressional reelection bid in order to enter the contest for the GOP Senate nod.
Meanwhile, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck said he would quit the Senate contest and instead seek the Republican nomination for Gardner’s House seat, which is based in Greeley.
The swap created a dilemma for Stephens, who was seen as Buck’s toughest competitor for the party’s Senate nod but who’s also a good friend and ally of Gardner’s.
“Really, it was a very heavy decision for me,” said Stephens. “I did well in the debates, I’m doing well in my signature gathering, but here’s what I know: I know that Cory can actually in a very short amount of time pull this together, bring people together, and get us united. And isn’t that what we want in the end?”
On the other hand, Hill told KNUS that he plans to stay in the race for the GOP Senate nomination and criticized Republicans for engineering what he described as a “backroom deal.”
“The Republican Party keeps doing this,” said Hill. “They keep trying to cook these backroom deals, and it’s what’s causing us to undermine people’s faith in the Republican Party. And as long as we keep doing this, we’re going to keep losing, unfortunately.”
Stephens disputed the description of the swap as a “backroom deal,” saying Gardner has been discussed openly as a potential candidate for months.
“There’s no backroom deals, there’s no conspiracy theories,” said Stephens. “This I think is really about practicality. I think this is about what we can do. Don’t you and I want to turn this state around? I do. Who can do it? Who can get us there? I think Cory can. That’s why I made the decision I did.”
Hill said Republicans approached him two weeks ago about bowing out of the race, but that his campaign is “more energized than ever.”
“They approached me a couple weeks ago, and said, ‘Hey this is for the good of the party, it’s time to get out, we need to do this,’” said Hill. “If this had been a long time ago, sure, give the people the chance to make these decisions, but to do it a couple of days before caucus, to do it when people feel like they haven’t had a chance to look at the candidates and vet the candidates and make that decision for themselves? People feel like they’ve been hoodwinked.”
The precinct caucuses are March 4, while the single county assemblies run from March 4-29. Delegates to the state Republican Assembly on April 12 will select candidates for the June 24 primary ballot. The Senate election is Nov. 4.
Former state GOP party chair Dick Wadhams called the Wednesday switcheroo “a terribly significant moment for Colorado Republicans and indeed for our entire state.”
“Cory changes the whole atmosphere of this election because we have several good people running for the U.S. Senate, but frankly none of them had the political heft that Congressman Gardner brings to this race,” Wadhams told KNUS.