Schaffer, Beauprez, Brophy keeping 2014 options open

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DENVER — Three Colorado Republicans whose names are being mentioned as possible statewide candidates in 2014 all tell FOX31 Denver that it’s way too soon to even think about mounting a campaign.

But none of those three — former U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer, state Sen. Greg Brophy and former Congressman Bob Beauprez — would rule out the possibility that their name might be at the top of the GOP ticket in two years.

Schaffer and Brophy’s names have been mentioned as possible challengers to Gov. John Hickenlooper, as has that of former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, who did not return phone calls seeking his comment for this story.

Similarly, Beauprez, who served as the Romney campaign’s chief surrogate in Colorado this year and is thought to be interested in taking another shot at Congress, told FOX31 Denver that he’s yet to decide if he will challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who’s facing reelection in 2014.

“It’s way, way too early to talk about two years from now,” Beauprez said. “I obviously was hoping for a different outcome of presidential election, so I’m trying to assess what, if anything I want to do.

“For now, I’m trying to clear my head by raising buffalo and grand-kids. But I have no intention of being disengaged.”

Beauprez, who lost the 2006 governor’s race to Democrat Bill Ritter, acknowledged that he enjoyed his time stumping across the state for Romney, serving as a stand-in for the campaign with Colorado media and as chief cheerleader at almost all of the GOP’s big rallies featuring Romney and running-mate Paul Ryan.

“You don’t have to run for elective office to make a difference,” Beauprez said. “But I enjoyed being out there a lot.”

Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call, who is likely to seek a second two-year term as party boss, told FOX31 Denver that, while the dust has yet to settle, he is already having conversations with potential 2104 candidates.

“Absolutely, I’m having conversations with a lot of these prospective candidates considering statewide office,” Call said Tuesday.

Udall, who beat Schaffer for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2008 after Republican Wayne Allard stepped aside, is one of 20 Democrats who will be defending seats in 2014.

Congressman Cory Gardner might be the one Colorado Republican who could clear the primary field by throwing his hat into the ring and would likely be the party’s strongest challenger for Udall; but Gardner, considered a rising star within the House GOP caucus, has hinted that he’s likely to wait for a better opportunity.

And Secretary of State Scott Gessler and Treasurer Walker Stapleton are also reportedly itching for their own opportunity up the ballot; and Congressman Mike Coffman, who survived a tough reelection battle, could give the GOP another battle-tested option in a statewide race should he decide to make the jump.

Can anyone beat Hickenlooper?

Hickenlooper, who won easily in 2010 after the Republican’s bid to win back the governor’s office was reduced to a circus, has some of the highest approval ratings of any sitting governor.

Earlier this month, following Obama’s reelection, a Republican strategist told FOX31 Denver that any challenger to Hickenlooper was likely to be little more than a gadfly candidate.

Just this week, Hickenlooper was included on Esquire Magazine’s year-end “Americans of 2012″ list, along with Bradley Cooper, Bruce Springsteen and Lena Dunham.

But the Republicans asked about taking him on, however shy about their own intentions, all expressed confidence that the GOP has a real shot at beating the former brewer-turned-politician.

“Absolutely, he’s beatable,” Schaffer, a former congressman and now principal of a Fort Collins charter school and the chairman of the Colorado Board of Education, told FOX31 Denver.

“Hickenlooper has enjoyed weak opposition the entirety of his political career. Incumbents who meet that kind of profile tend to have a glass jaw.”

“In 2010, his platform was I’m a nice guy from Denver, I’m not one of those two crazies,” said Brophy, referring to Dan Maes, who won the gubernatorial nomination after a plagiarism scandal took down Scott McInnis, and Tom Tancredo, the former GOP congressman who switched parties and ran at the last minute but couldn’t get Maes out of the race.

“I’m convinced [Republicans] didn’t have as good of a  year in Colorado in 2010 as every other state had because of the top of the ticket,” Brophy continued.

A colorful and sometimes controversial character from Wray on the state’s eastern edge, Brophy downplayed his own candidacy for the moment while simultaneously licking his proverbial chops about taking Hickenlooper on.

“There’s a lot that has to work out before I’d be ready to do that,” Brophy told FOX31 Denver. “But I’d love to.

“I’ve often been very critical of Gov. Hickenlooper for not addressing the just huge issue that we have with long-term budgeting problems. Just like Gov. Ritter, he gets blue-ribbon panels to tell you the obvious. We don’t have enough money to pay for our programs. Are you willing to tell the people of Colorado you’re going to raise your taxes? Or that we need to cut programs?

“If I were to get into race for governor, it would be with intention of winning — but winning by being straight with people of Colorado,” Brophy continued. “Here’s what our real problems are and here’s what real solutions are.”

The GOP “has to change”

Schaffer, who told FOX31 Denver he “hasn’t given any thought” to a gubernatorial campaign, acknowledged that he wants to help the GOP get back to basics.

“The Party has to change,” Schaffer said. “The country’s in desperate need of legitimate leaders who understand how to foster economic growth and project national strength.

“Too many leaders in our Party are incapable of accurately and clearly conveying a liberating conservative message,” Schaffer said, lumping the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee into that category.

“[Mitt Romney’s] campaign rhetoric was quite good, but it didn’t precisely align with his proven record as a governor,” Schaffer said. “Obama campaigned as a committed socialist and his record supports that.

“I think people believed what he said. Romney campaigned as a free market reformer and has had a very statist orientation as a governor. While his rhetoric sounded great, and I voted for it, there wasn’t same consonance that you see with Obama.”

To many conservative activists, “the Bobs”, Schaffer and Beauprez atop the 2014 ticket, would amount to another GOP ticket of older, white, establishment Republicans.

“A lot of activists are hoping to see some new blood in the statewide GOP lineup,” one former Republican lawmaker told FOX31 Denver, offering a list of potential candidates: Gardner; state Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen; Lang Sias, a former Top Gun pilot and moderate Republican who lost bids for Congress and the state Senate in the last two cycles; state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango; or Jennifer George, a Colorado Springs Republican who lost her 2012 bid for the statehouse.

Call told FOX31 Denver that the party is indeed looking at more people than those who have sought or held elected office before.

“It’s premature for me to start naming names, but I think the Republican bench is a lot deeper and there are more opportunities and options for the party than just the handful of names you’ve mentioned.”