DENVER — What a difference six months can make.
Colorado Republicans, written off after another bruising election cycle last November, are suddenly lining up to take on Gov. John Hickenlooper next year after his presiding over a four-month legislative session that saw Democrats pursue an ambitious and decidedly progressive agenda.
As many as five Republicans may decide to take a shot at Hickenlooper, according to Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call.
“It may be a crowded primary field, as many as five candidates, and that number might grow,” Call told FOX31 Denver Monday. “I fully expect to have a pretty robust primary on the Republican side, and in many ways a lot of competing visions for the future of our state and our party.
Among the GOP’s possible gubernatorial hopefuls: Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former Congressman Tom Tancredo and state Sen. Greg Brophy.
Call has been traveling on the Western Slope over the weekend with Gessler, who told Republicans at the Moffat County Lincoln Day Dinner that Hickenlooper “was a partisan rubberstamp for a partisan Legislature.”
Tancredo, of course, left the party in 2010 to mount a gubernatorial bid against Hickenlooper after the Republicans were stuck with political neophyte Dan Maes as the party’s official nominee.
Neither he nor Gessler are likely to help the party with Hispanic voters, an increasingly critical constituency.
Brophy, on the other hand, could have more credibility with that growing part of the electorate after voting to support in-state tuition for undocumented students earlier this year.
“I fully expect him to run,” Call said of Brophy. “He’s done a great job on a lot of bills, not just the gun bills, being a thoughtful, principled voice. Many people at the Capitol have expressed to me that he’s one of the smartest people we have under the dome.
“Here’s a guy who drives a prius with a [Rocky Moutain Gun Owners] sticker on it,” Call continued. “He’s very authentic about it and he does things in a way that challenges a lot of people’s perceptions of the party.”
Suthers, who is term-limited in 2014, has indicated that he’s unlikely to run for governor, although Call believes he’d be a formidable candidate.
“I’d love to see him offer his name up,” Call said.
Former state Rep. Victor Mitchell, who’d been considering a run earlier in the year, may be backing away at this point, said Call, who hinted that he expects a candidate or two from outside elected office, from the business or education world, may also get in the race.
“I’m encouraged so many people are actually looking at it,” Call said. “It tells me Hickenlooper is more vulnerable than he was six months ago.”
Gardner, Beauprez likeliest challengers for Udall
The U.S. Senate primary field will likely be less crowded — if there is a primary at all.
Congressman Cory Garnder, R-Yuma, is unlikely to have any challengers should he decided to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall next year.
But Gardner, a rising star within the House GOP caucus in Washington, DC, may decide not to risk his career in a tough race against a well-funded and battle-tested opponent.
That would leave former Congressman Bob Beauprez as the GOP’s likely Senate candidate, according to Call.
Beauprez, who lost the 2006 governor’s race to Democrat Bill Ritter, appeared to have gotten the itch to run for office again during last year’s presidential campaign, when he served as Mitt Romney’s hardest-working Colorado surrogate, stumping all summer and fall across the state.
“His speech at the Jefferson County Lincoln Day dinner was one of the best summations of our party’s principles and indictments of the Obama administration’s record that I’ve heard in some time,” Call said. “He would be a very credible candidate.
“Running for U.S. Senate requires a little bit of a different level of experience. You’ve got to be able to inspire confidence around the country in terms of financing.”
Former Congressman Bob Schaffer, who lost to Udall in 2008, isn’t likely to attempt a rematch this year, Call said.
Coffman, Waller likely to battle for GOP’s Attorney General nomination
It’s been one of the worst-kept secrets at the Capitol that House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, is planning on running to replace Suthers as Attorney General in 2014.
An official announcement is expected in the next couple of weeks, once Waller returns from a post-session vacation.
Now it’s looking like he’ll have company, with Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman gearing up for a run, even though her husband, Congressman Mike Coffman, is facing a difficult reelection fight next year.
“They have different backgrounds, but both of them are credible and competent and would be solid candidates for us,” Call said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The initial version of this story incorrectly listed Suthers as a potential candidate. Suthers told the Denver Post in February he would not run against Hickenlooper; his office confirmed that he stands by that position, despite encouragement from some Republicans who believe he’d be a solid candidate.