The Republican congressman who declared his party “dead” in 2017 is expected to seek the chairmanship of the state party, multiple sources tell 9NEWS.
Four sources with knowledge of the process on Wednesday told 9NEWS Congressman Ken Buck will run for chair of the Colorado Republican Party.
The replacement for outgoing party chairman Jeff Hays, who is not seeking another two-year term, will be selected by roughly 500 party insiders at a State Central Committee meeting on March 30.
State Representative Susan Beckman of Arapahoe County is the only currently declared candidate for the position. Beckman vowed to stay in the race Wednesday afternoon.
“I made my decision after the shellacking we took,” Beckman said to 9NEWS, adding that Colorado Republicans were “out strategized and outworked” in November.
Beckman did not offer any concerns about Buck leading the party but stressed her own qualifications.
“I think my experience sets me apart,” Beckman said.
Colorado Republican Party spokesman Daniel Cole said he was unaware of any reason why a currently elected official, on the state level or federal level, could not simultaneously lead the state party. Cole could not recall a recent time when the chair of the state GOP was also in elected office.
Rep. Buck denounced the current condition of the Republican Party in a stinging op-ed in the Denver Post in 2017.
“The Republican Party is dead,” Buck said. “It no longer has a vision for a better America. And no one is stepping up to provide that vision.”
Buck said in 2017 that he used to be proud to be a Republican, slamming what he called the party’s "'B-team' of messengers who distract the nation with frivolities.”
A newly-hired spokesperson for Buck was not immediately available for comment.
The current chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, Jeff Hays of El Paso County, announced Jan. 4 that he would not seek another term.
Hays said in a message to the state’s Republicans that he believes “the party is primed for new leadership.”
State Senator Owen Hill of Colorado Springs offered support for Buck’s candidacy.
“Ken is thoughtful, energetic, well-respected, and won’t back down,” Hill said. “We would be lucky to have him as our next chair”
George Athanasopoulos, who lost a bid for party chair to Hays in 2017, said he will not run again in 2019.
“I like Ken Buck,” Athanasopoulos said. “I have some concern about the kind of people he is surrounding himself with and the type of campaigning he thinks will be successful in 2020.”
Athanasopoulos noted Democratic Governor Jared Polis’ highly targeted and successful get-out-the-vote operation that powered Polis to victory in 2018.
“That’s the kind of canvassing Republicans will need to do in order to be successful,” Athanasopoulos said. “If that party can’t do that, we can expect the same result in 2020 that we saw in 2018.”
Colorado Republicans suffered sweeping losses in 2018, losing control of the State Senate and failing to hold the three constitutional offices previously held by Republicans: Treasurer, Secretary of State and Attorney General.
Democrats have not held this level of control over state government in more than 50 years.
A key priority for the incoming Republican state chairperson will be re-electing Senator Cory Gardner, who is expected to be one of the most vulnerable GOP Senators up in 2020.
If Buck takes the helm of the state party, he could lay the groundwork for a 2022 rematch with Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, to whom he lost in 2010.
President Trump remains highly popular with Colorado Republicans. Buck has been supportive, but not in lock-step with Trump.
Buck earned praise from Trump in 2017 for backing a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, even though Buck told 9NEWS he hadn’t decided to support the repeal. Buck later acknowledged he had not been truthful with 9NEWS.
Adams County Republican Chairman Anil Mathai, who acknowledged he’s “a little bit of a pariah” for his criticism of the state party and his hardline conservative ideology, was tentatively encouraged by Buck’s candidacy.
“I think he’s a good choice,” Mathai said. “The party is decimated.”
Mathai noted Buck’s support of President Trump, saying he hoped Buck would help the party find traditionally conservative candidates for office.
That could include a successor for Buck in Congress. Mathai said Buck should choose one role or another and not “double-dip.”
“The constituents of that district need full representation,” Mathai said.