Who would want to lead the Colorado Republican Party?
GOP strategist Sage Naumann said that “only the insane, incapacitated or incompetent” would consider the job. Several other party officials used the word “thankless” to refer to the position, which serves as a combination cheerleader, unifier, peacemaker and fundraiser for the party and its candidates. Even Steve Reams, the Weld County sheriff who said he’s strongly considering a run for the job, made the position sound more like a sacrifice than a prize.
“There’s not much about it that appeals to me,” he said Tuesday, a day after the party’s current chair, Kristi Burton Brown, announced she wouldn’t seek re-election after serving one term, setting up a contested race at a pivotal time in the party’s history. “I’m just frustrated by what’s happened.”
Burton Brown’s decision came six weeks after Republicans suffered defeats up and down the ticket here, a sucker punch of an election that was supposed to announce the party’s return to prominence. Party officials are calling for a years-long rebuild, work that will extend beyond 2024 and the latest presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. Though the party chair isn’t solely responsible for that undertaking, whoever replaces Burton Brown will need to serve as a unifying and stabilizing presence for a party adrift, several Republican officials said.
The chair and the party both are at the mercy of the top of the ticket — meaning Trump — and that person’s popularity, Naumann and others said. But the chair can still influence Colorado Republicans’ infrastructure, messaging and unity moving forward. Laura Carno, a Republican strategist, said the next chair needs to elevate candidates on a local and statewide level, prioritizing party unity over political purity. That’s something Burton Brown did well, officials said.
“Somebody who is very interested in being a workhorse and not a showhorse is very important,” said Lang Sias, the Republican candidate for treasurer this year and lieutenant governor hopeful in 2018. “(Burton Brown’s) public positions on some issues personally were different than public positions of some of the candidates — (U.S. Senate candidate) Joe (O’Dea), for example, when he ran. But I think she viewed it as her job to do everything she could to support the candidates that the Republican Party had nominated and to try to get them elected.”
“The other thing I would say is the person needs to do no harm,” Carno said. “Some of the names out there (as potential candidates for party chair) have a reputation for being bomb-throwers. I think someone who’s a bomb-thrower will do harm. … You just can’t do harm to the brand.”
Those names include Tina Peters, the Mesa County clerk who’s pushed baseless election conspiracy theories and is awaiting trial for allegedly breaching election security; she is said to be considering a run, multiple officials said (Peters did not return a request for comment this week). Dave Williams, a departing representative and member of the party’s right-wing faction, has also eyed the chair position. He told the Post this week that “nothing has been ruled out” but that his main goal was to replace Burton Brown.
Despite rumors to the contrary, Erik Aadland, who mounted an unsuccessful congressional campaign this year, will not run, a spokeswoman said. Casper Stockham, who ran against Burton Brown for the position in 2021, has said he will run. Burton Brown told the Post that Greg Lopez, who lost in the party’s gubernatorial primary against Heidi Ganahl in June, is also running. Lopez did not return requests for comment sent this week.
A Peters chairmanship, several Republicans said, would be disastrous for a party trying to stabilize itself and appeal to unaffiliated voters turned off by Trump and election conspiracies. One likened the prospect of her or Williams’ assuming the role to “inmates running the asylum.” Several, including former party chair Dick Wadhams, pointed to a late November protest featuring Peters where right-wing speakers lobbed personal insults at state Republican leaders.
“We need a state chair who doesn’t talk about stolen election conspiracies, doesn’t talk about anybody that disagrees with them as a whore or a traitor or an a–wipe,” Wadhams said, referring to the insults hurled at leaders at the November protest, which was held near the party’s Greenwood Village headquarters. “We need a credible state chair. Then that person needs to work on what we could win in 2024.”
Peters, Williams and members of the right-wing “Save Colorado Project,” which organized the November protest, have criticized party leaders for being too moderate. After the election, Williams accused those officials of being “charlatans” for spending so much money only to lose in November. On its website, the Save Colorado Project said Burton Brown and others had betrayed fundamental values and favored “center-left candidates.”
The chair will be selected in March by the party’s central committee, which could include as many as 450 Republicans from across the state, Wadhams said. He and another veteran Republican both said the committee would likely favor a more right-wing figure like Peters or Williams.
Reams, who was first elected as Weld County sheriff in 2014, is an example of a more moderate and “credible” candidate, Wadhams said. Danny Moore, Ganahl’s running mate, was also said to be considering a run but has since decided against it, several officials said. Ganahl has also been mentioned as a potential candidate, though her interest has reportedly cooled, as well (neither Ganahl nor Moore returned messages seeking comment this week).
Reams said he was likely to run and that he would make a final decision in the coming days. He said the party was “extremely fractured” and that Republicans had become proficient at pointing out problems but not the needed solutions. As for Peters and other right-wing candidates, he said it was up to them to “define themselves.”
“My messaging will be different than theirs,” Reams said. “I’ll leave it at that.”