Rhode Island transplant Steve Laffey is Hickenlooper’s first serious GOP challenger

Steve Laffey is the former mayor of Cranston, RI and lost a Republican Senate primary in 2006.

Steve Laffey is the former mayor of Cranston, RI and lost a Republican Senate primary in 2006.

DENVER — If Colorado Republicans are looking for a fresh face to take on Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper next year, one of them just appeared.

Out of nowhere.

Well, Rhode Island, really.

Steve Laffey, a former mayor and GOP Senate candidate who moved to Colorado just three years ago, has filed papers to run for governor in 2014.

Laffey’s campaign manager, Patrick Davis, began dropping hints on Facebook Monday night. Laffey, 51, officially announced his campaign Tuesday morning on the Amy Oliver Show.

“You can talk to people who knew me back in Rhode Island and in Memphis and they may not all like me, but no one will tell you I won’t run things efficiently,” Laffey told FOX31 Denver Tuesday afternoon. “No one will tell you I won’t bring leadership.”

Able to self-fund his campaign early on, Laffey is the first serious candidate to enter what could be a crowded primary field, with GOP Chairman Ryan Call telling FOX31 Denver Monday that he expects at least five candidates to vie for the party’s nomination next year.

However many Republicans decide to take a shot at defeating Hickenlooper, it’s a good bet that Laffey will be the most liberal — the most similar to Hickenlooper himself, actually — of the bunch.

The former mayor of Cranston, RI, Laffey lost a GOP primary to Sen. Lincoln Chaffee in 2006 and then wrote a book about it, Primary Mistake: How the Washington Republican Establishment Lost Everything in 2006 (and Sabotaged My Senatorial Campaign).

Described by one reporter following his 2006 campaign as a “hyper-kinetic, fast-talking son of the working class,” Laffey is an unabashed populist who idolizes Reagan; his platform included support for spending cuts, school vouchers and renewable energy.

Like Hickenlooper, Laffey is an entrepreneur with a compelling biography.

He grew up poor and was the first member of his family to graduate from college; he has degrees from Bowdoin College and Harvard Business School, and a business career that led to serving as president of the Morgan Keegan investment firm in Memphis.

A father of six, he moved to Fort Collins three years ago. Since then, he’s been raising Irish Gypsy horses and Dexter cows on his ranch.

Last year, he released a documentary film, Fixing America, featuring ordinary Americans and their suggestions on fixing the issues with America’s economy and the disconnect with the political elite.

“I came out here for my kids,” Laffey told FOX31 Denver. “Colorado is one of the last, great places in America. But it’s very apparent to me that, with Democrats controlling the governor’s office and both chambers at the state legislature, there’s been a shift and it’s costing us jobs, forcing people to leave the state.

“I see the end result of all this. I was the mayor of a town that went bankrupt.”

Laffey said he decided to jump in the race just a few weeks ago after giving a speech at the Independence Institute and getting a house call from retired Navy SEAL Capt. Larry Bailey, who encouraged him to be more active.

“He asked me what I was actually doing to make things better,” Laffey said. “I realized I had to get off my butt and do something.”

Of course, a head-to-head match-up with Hickenlooper is a long way away; and several better-known candidates — that list likely includes Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former Congressman Tom Tancredo and state Sen. Greg Brophy — stand in his way.

Asked about his first possible opponent on Tuesday, Hickenlooper wasn’t sure who Laffey was. ‘‘What’s his name?’’ he asked a reporter who questioned him about Laffey after a bill-signing ceremony.

Asked if he knew anything about his presumptive challenger, Hickenlooper quipped, ‘‘No, but I’ll research it as soon as I go back.’’


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