DENVER — Republican state Sen. Owen Hill just wrapped up his first session as a state lawmaker.
So how’s he spending his summer vacation?
He’s seriously considering a run for U.S. Senate against Colorado Democrat Mark Udall, who continues to raise boatloads of cash without a single declared GOP opponent as the calendar turns to July.
“We’re talking about it,” Hill, 31, confirmed to FOX31 Denver. “Both political parties right now seem like they’re locked in the past. We need innovators. We’re toying with [a run for Senate] and talking about how we can be innovators, wrestling with ideas of the future.”
As we wrote on Monday, that Hill is even considering the race is a testament to his potential; but it also highlights just how thin the Colorado GOP’s bench is after a decade of top-of-the-ticket defeats.
Hill’s ambitious — he first ran for the legislature in 2010 when he was just 28, losing to Sen. John Morse by just 340 votes (he might have won, if not for a Libertarian candidate in the race) — but even he never imagined to be weighing a run for national office at such a young age.
“There’s no way I ever thought we’d be wrestling with this now,” said Hill, who expects to reach a decision on the race in the next couple of weeks.
For Republicans, it’s important to have a candidate to take on Udall some time in July, at the start of the year’s third fundraising quarter — not only will the GOP have some catching up to do on the fundraising front, but the party has to be tired of every story about Udall or the race focusing on its struggles to find a willing candidate.
The first-tier possibility, Yuma Congressman Cory Gardner, opted not to risk his rising stature within the House GOP caucus on the race; and a host of other potential candidates, from a retired four-star general to the state’s solicitor general, have been approached about a run and declined.
“We will have a strong candidate,” GOP Chairman Ryan Call promised last month.
Other current and former lawmakers have expressed interest in the race, from former Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez to state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, and Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument.
Compared to Hill, they’re legislative veterans.
And Stephens, a former House Majority Leader, has a job with Focus on the Family on her resume and has strong support from social conservatives — not that Hill, who works for a Christian child sponsorship organization working on behalf of poor kids and moved his wife and four children to Denver to be close by during the legislative session, wouldn’t appeal to that piece of the GOP base himself.
But Colorado Republicans, who haven’t won a big statewide race since 2002, are eager to find a fresh face.
Hill, who’s already among the most articulate lawmakers under the gold dome, looks the part — and his vote earlier this year for the ASSET bill, which gives undocumented immigrants in-state college tuition, could enable him to help the GOP make much needed inroads next year with Hispanic voters.
“The fact that a very young, newly minted State Senator might be the GOP’s best prospect against Mark Udall speaks to the weakness of the Party’s bench,” said political analyst Eric Sondermann. “That said, for a party in huge need of fresh faces and new voices, this might not be the worst scenario.
“During the past legislative session, Hill demonstrated a degree of independent thinking and a willingness to go counter to his Party’s base on occasion. That’s a characteristic and a reputation that might offer some appeal to a purple electorate.”
With Udall last weekend touting the Senate’s passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill along with “Gang of Eight” member, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, I asked Hill about the legislation, which drew broad, bipartisan support and highlighted a divide among Republicans worried about the party’s ability to speak to Latinos and those dead set against anything affording undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.
“It is one of the most important debates of our time,” Hill said. “I like some aspects of the bill, like lifting the cap on STEM visas and moving DREAMers to the front of the line.
“We have to distinguish between those who were brought here by their parents through no fault of their own and want to pay their own way through college, to contribute to our economy — these are the kind of people we want here. We have to distinguish between them and the others who want to come here and simply be a drain on the system.”
Hill didn’t weigh in on the proposed 13-year path to citizenship, saying only that he’d prefer a more focused, less comprehensive approach.
“Unfortunately in Washington, DC, any time you take this comprehensive approach, these huge pieces of legislation get hijacked by the special interests,” he said. “There’s a special section in the bill for ski instructors here. That’s ridiculous.
“We can’t do this comprehensively. We need to start with the low-hanging fruit: secure the border, implement E-Verify and remove those caps on STEM visas.”