Trump, ‘election integrity’ remain Colorado GOP focus as chairperson selection nears
Candidates to lead state party speak at forum ahead of March reorganization meeting
Erik Aadland, far left, speaks during a forum for Colorado GOP chair candidates hosted by the Republican Women of Weld on Feb. 25, 2023. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)
If there is one thing the people vying to be the next leader of the Colorado Republican Party can generally agree on, it’s that the party is in need of a marketing and communications overhaul if they are to attract new voters into their fold and have a chance of reclaiming political power in the state.
“The real problem we have is we’ve got to identify what it means to be a Republican. We have a good national platform, but we really don’t have anything to go on at the state level,” former state Sen. Kevin Lundberg said at a candidate forum hosted by the Republican Women of Weld on Saturday afternoon. “We needed that. It needs to be clear, it needs to be worked through in a very careful fashion so everyone can buy into it.”
Finding and communicating that platform was a common talking point during the forum at a pizza restaurant in Weld County that featured all six candidates. It was moderated by Jesse Paul of The Colorado Sun and Ernest Luning of Colorado Politics.
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“We’ve got to articulate our message in a way that Coloradans believe in, understand and want to get behind. That’s going to take tremendous work, coming together and presenting a unified front that wins elections,” said Erik Aadland, a former congressional candidate who lost a bid for the 7th Congressional District seat to Rep. Brittany Pettersen last year.
Colorado Republicans will choose their next chair at a party reorganization meeting on March 11. Current Republican state chair Kristi Burton Brown announced in December that she is not seeking a second term.
The leadership shakeup comes a few months after a blistering loss for the party during the 2022 midterms, when Democrats secured every statewide office, won the state’s new congressional seat and expanded their majorities in the state Legislature.
“We are in a hole, and we need to start digging ourselves out of it,” said Casper Stockham, who has led multiple unsuccessful congressional campaigns and also ran for state party chair in 2021.
Lundbert, Aadland and Stockham are joined in the race by former state Rep. Dave Williams, indicted former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, and conservative Christian activist Aaron Wood.
Other common ground between the candidates include a support for the return to closed primary elections and disdain for the petition process for candidates to get on the primary ballot.
Analysis of 2022 losses
The candidates offered various reasons for why Republicans in Colorado lost so badly in November, from a weak slate of candidates to unreliable voting machines.
“We put unprincipled, weak candidates forward in top, key positions. We’re losing trust with real conservative voices throughout the state because of the people who go through our process and circumvent the assembly and caucus and petition only onto the ballot and don’t stand up for key issues,” Wood said.
We need to not be afraid of people calling us … election deniers. Trump won, plain and simple. Nobody wanted Joe Biden as president ... I am unashamed to say that.
– Aaron Wood, candidate for Colorado GOP chair
That was one of many digs between the candidates towards former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, who made it on the primary ballot by gathering enough voter signatures instead of the internal assembly process. He went on to lose to Sen. Michael Bennet in the general election.
“(O’Dea) is a good example of how the party will fall apart if we don’t understand what the party stands for,” Lundberg said.
Williams argued that Republicans failed to provide a compelling contrast to Democratic candidates in the election.
“We had a U.S. Senate candidate who said he would vote to codify Roe v. Wade,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court decision guaranteeing abortion rights that conservative justices overturned last year. “Why in the hell would any swing voter want to vote for the Republican party when they are just getting more of the same? If we want to win, we have to boldly articulate who we are and we should be unafraid and unashamed of it.”
For Tina Peters, the crushing midterm losses were not the Republican leadership’s fault. Peters is set to begin a criminal trial this summer over her involvement in a security breach in her county during an attempt to prove fraud in Colorado’s voting machines and election process. She has pleaded not guilty to felony charges in that case and continues to be a national figurehead in the so-called “election integrity” movement.
“It’s because of the machines,” she said of midterm results. “It’s not your fault.”
Trump in 2020, 2024
None of the six candidates would say that President Joe Biden was legitimately elected in 2020.
Claims that the 2020 election was compromised have been rejected by experts, courts and former President Donald Trump’s own campaign and administration officials. Biden won Colorado with 55.4% of the vote in the state.
“We need to not be afraid of people calling us … election deniers. Trump won, plain and simple. Nobody wanted Joe Biden as president,” Wood said. “I am unashamed to say that.”
Aadland instead urged people to look to future elections, which is a similar strategy he used during the congressional race when asked about the 2020 election. He was the only candidate to say that Biden won, though he did not say the sitting president legitimately won his election.
“Clearly, Biden won. Whether by hook or by crook, he is sitting in the Oval Office. But this rehashing 2020 is not serving Republicans,” he said. “Whether fraud dictated an outcome in 2020 — sadly, we’ll never know. We need to be looking forward, doing everything we can to make sure our elections are transparent and every voter has confidence.”
“A lot of Republicans have checked out of this conversation because of the way we’re talking about it,” he said on the issue of election integrity in the state.
Stockham said he agreed with Aadland. Aadland said that as chair, he would champion ballot initiatives to clean voter rolls, strengthen voter identification laws and ensure an auditable process.
While most of the candidates pledged official neutrality in the 2024 presidential primary process if selected as chair, they mostly expressed personal support for Trump as the potential nominee next year.
The entire candidate forum is available to watch on the Women of Weld’s Facebook page.
The Colorado Democratic Party is also selecting a new chair during its April 1 reorganization meeting, as current chair Morgan Carroll is not seeking reelection. Current First Vice Chairman Howard Chou, Democratic strategist Shad Murib and party volunteer Tim Kubik are seeking that position.
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