Kopp big story at GOP assembly

Former JeffCo lawmaker earns top line on primary ballot in gubernatorial race

Grant Van Der Jagt (center) and Larry Strohl fill out their ballots at the Republican state assembly on April 12. Van Der Jagt and Strohl were delegates from Centennial. Photo by Vic Vela
Vic Vela

It took Republican delegates just one ballot over the weekend to pick from a crowded field of hopefuls looking to challenge Gov. John Hickenlooper this November - and one candidate in particular emerged as a surprise force in the race.

Delegates who converged on Boulder for the Republican State Assembly on April 12 also picked candidates for other key statewide races. The results included the clearing of opposition to U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, who can now set his sights exclusively on Democratic incumbent Mark Udall in the race for a Senate seat this fall.

Coming into the assembly, at least one gubernatorial candidate looked like a sure bet to get on the ballot - Secretary of State Scott Gessler. But delegates made room for another hopeful: former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp.

In a crowded GOP field, Kopp will have the top line when Republican voters fill out their ballots in the gubernatorial primary in June. That's because Kopp surprised many by emerging with the top vote count among the 3,900-plus delegates.

"It's always nice to have the 'big Mo,' " said Kopp, who represented the southern part of Jefferson County in the state Senate from 2007 -11. "Our message worked, our organization worked. So, phase one is complete and now we're excited to move into phase two."

Kopp's nomination speech - held inside the University of Colorado's Coors Events Center - took on a fighting theme. Kopp talked about being an underdog who takes down "giants" and referenced his own background as an Army ranger who doesn't know the meaning of the word surrender.

"Surrender is not a Ranger word and it's not a conservative word," Kopp said.

Kopp's 34 percent of the delegate vote tally edged Gessler's, who also made the primary ballot by garnering 33 of the delegate vote.

Gessler's speech included plenty of red meat for the conservative crowd. He touted his pro-life stance and conservative economic principles. He also called on Republicans to stand up to Democrats and push back against the rival party's agenda.

"I am tired of weak-kneed Republicans who think that every Democratic attack spells disaster," Gessler said. "They roll over instead of standing up."

Kopp and Gessler will join former Congressman Tom Tancredo on the ballot this fall. Tancredo skipped the assembly nominating process, instead opting to gain ballot entry through a petition, which he has done.

Candidates can either seek a ballot spot through the delegate process or by submitting enough signatures to gain ballot entry.

Former Congressman Bob Beauprez - who lost a governor's race to Bill Ritter in 2006 - is also attempting to petition on to the ballot.

Those who sought ballot placement through the assembly needed at least 30 percent of the delegate vote. That didn't happen for three other gubernatorial candidates, including state Sen. Mike Brophy of Wray, who garnered just 19 percent of the vote.

Gardner prevails in Senate race

Meanwhile, Gardner emerged as the overwhelming favorite among delegates to challenge Udall this fall.

By carrying 73 percent of the vote, Gardner ensured that he would have no primary opposition.

Gardner - who is regarded as a rising star in GOP politics - is seen among Republicans both here and at the national level as the party's best shot at picking up a U.S. Senate seat.

Gardner has been highly critical of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature legislative achievement. In his speech to delegates, Gardner blasted ObamaCare as the "biggest and worst government boondoggle in American history," and attempted to tie Udall to the Democratic president.

"The president has made our biggest problems worse and our greatest assets weaker," said Gardner, who will give up his post as the representative for the 4th Congressional District. "And Mark Udall was just along for the ride."

Those failing to collect the necessary 30 percent of the delegate vote included state Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs, who garnered just 23.8 percent of delegate support.

An open Attorney General seat will feature a GOP primary battle between Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and state Rep. Mark Waller, of Colorado Springs.

Coffman will earn the ballot's top line after earning 69.3 percent of the vote among delegates. Waller eked out a ballot spot, with 30.7 percent of the vote.

Whoever emerges from the GOP primary will take on the Democratic AG candidate, former Adams County District Attorney Don Quick.

As for the Secretary of State's race, El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams was nominated by acclamation as the GOP nominee for Gessler's vacated seat.

Williams did not face opposition for the nomination and is expected to square off against Democrat Joe Neguse this fall.

The Democrats held their own assembly in Denver the same day. However, there were no questions going into the assembly who their candidates would be.

Hickenlooper, Udall, Quick and Neguse all were officially nominated at the Democratic State Assembly.