DENVER— District Attorney George Brauchler is running for governor.
"Over time I’ve come to the conclusion that what Colorado lacks is real leadership, and I think that I can bring that to this office ... ," Brauchler told 9NEWS. "I think that what we’ve had is management, not leadership."
His entry to the race is an expected development in Colorado political circles, though Brauchler is likely to have a group of other credible Republican candidates to contend with.
Colorado’s state treasurer Walker Stapleton and state attorney general Cynthia Coffman are both exploring runs, among others.
On the Democratic side, former state senator Mike Johnston has already announced a run and is expected to be joined by Congressman Ed Perlmutter.
Brauchler is best known for prosecuting the mass-murderer who attacked an Aurora movie theater in 2012, which resulted in numerous guilty verdicts and life imprisonment for the killer, but not the death penalty.
And he plans to keep his day job while he runs for governor.
It was the death penalty that thrust Brauchler’s name into the eyes of Republicans as a serious candidate for statewide office.
In 2014, Brauchler delivered a sharply-pointed speech on the steps of the state Capitol to blast Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) for granting an temporary, but indefinite reprieve to death row inmate Nathan Dunlap.
The move by Hickenlooper enraged death penalty supporters, who viewed the move as a non-decision that left capital punishment in limbo in the state. Hickenlooper vowed repeatedly to leave the decision about whether Dunlap lives or dies to the next governor.
Now, Brauchler is hoping to be that next governor.
"I don’t think we have a man’s life up for a vote," Brauchler said. "The vote was back in 1996 by 12 people that his attorneys helped pick. And they said unanimously that he deserved to die for what he was convicted of doing, and that’s murdering four people, trying to kill five."
Victims from the theater shooting generally praise Brauchler’s work on what was arguable the biggest criminal case in state history— even those who disagree with his politics.
“I’m happy for [Brauchler] and I’m happy the Republicans have a good man on their side,” said Sandy Phillips, a gun control advocate whose daughter Jessica Ghawi died in the theater shooting. “However, I’m a one-issue voter. And as I one-issue voter, I would probably be voting Democratic.”
Brauchler chose his words carefully when discussing Phillips and the other victims of the Aurora theater shooting.
"I believe that their beliefs about gun control are sincere. I believe that they are deeply held. And in no way am I in a position to tell them that what they’re thinking is wrong," Brauchler said. "But from my experience, there isn’t a law out there that someone could dream up other than confiscating weapons, which I’m opposed to, that would have made a difference in that case."
The theater shooter passed a background check and brought more than 700 rounds of ammunition with him.
"This was a guy that was bent on murdering as many people as possible, and there wasn’t a single law that I can think of that would have changed that outcome," Brauchler said.
He also took a strong stance against interference by the federal government into Colorado matters, including marijuana.
"If we are troubled by this administration or any other administration and the impact that they have on the day-to-day lives of Coloradans, then you want a strong governor to stand up and say, 'Hey federal government, Colorado knows best how to manage Colorado,'" Brauchler said.
The last statewide primary contest for Republicans culminated in the nomination of Darryl Glenn to challenge US Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado,) a self-described “unapologetic Christian-Constitutional-conservative-pro-life-Second-Amendment-loving American.”
Glenn defeated several Republican candidates with more experience and fundraising ability in the primary, only to lose to Bennet in November by nearly seven percentage points.
"It’s clear that I am the conservative out of that group of folks that are running," Brauchler said. "But at the end of the day, I think being attractive to Colorado voters means not just getting out to meet them and discussing the things that are important to them, but to talk to them about why you can provide the leadership to make those things happen."
The competing goals of winning conservative primary voters and moderate voters in November are a concern to Phillips as she watches Brauchler run.
“He’s got a good moral compass,” Phillips said. “I hope he doesn’t trade that in for his own political agenda in the future, no matter if he wins or loses. Just that he stays true to his moral self.”