As the Denver Post's Kurtis Lee reports today:
At a moment when two of the state's most powerful Democrats appear vulnerable heading into 2014, at least one candidate so far in the crowded field of GOP hopefuls plans to bypass the assembly process and take her message straight to a broader demographic of the party…
"Petitioning on is strategically the best move," said state Rep. Amy Stephens, a Republican from Monument who is vying for the U.S. Senate. "If you're going to win a general election, you have to appeal to a wider audience, and that starts with the primary."
The decision of whether to forgo a contentious state assembly where intraparty squabbles can prove difficult to escape when the general election comes around, or engage in broader outreach to more Republican voters, is one that candidates are weighing right now — well before the calendar flips to 2014.
Kurtis Lee cites a number of examples of successful Republican officeholders who chose to bypass their party's assembly process, such as Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Rep. Mike Coffman. We would also note a recent unsuccessful example of ditching the assemblies, that of failed 2010 GOP Senate candidate Jane Norton. And there's a big difference Lee misses: in 2008 for Coffman and 2010 for Stapleton and Norton, the decision to bypass the party assembly was made much later in the election cycle. Norton's decision to pull out of the assembly process, which she went to great lengths to explain "did not come lightly," didn't come until April of 2010.
Also noteworthy is the very different reaction of Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call today to his predecessor Dick Wadhams. In response to Norton's decision to not participate in the caucus process, Wadhams angrily declared that Norton would not be allowed to speak or even display signs at the state assembly.
“Any candidates for statewide office who forgo the caucus assembly process will not be allowed to speak,” Wadhams said. “They will not be allowed to have banners or signs or literature at the state convention. If the convention is not good enough to participate in, it’s not good enough for them to have a presence. That’s their decision.”
Compare that to Ryan Call, when asked this week about the legitimacy of candidates forgoing the assembly to petition onto ballot:
"Both are legitimate and respectable processes," Ryan Call, the state GOP chairman, said.
And with that, Chairman Call meekly writes off the value of his party's traditional nominating process. If you think about it, that's a pretty stunning development. With that said, there's an obvious reality underlying this shift: around the country, today's Republican Party apparatus has been heavily co-opted by the "Tea Party" far right–including Call's own Colorado Republican Party. The election in September of Douglas County GOP chair Mark Baisley, a former opponent of Call's for the state party chairmanship, is broadly seen as a push by the far right "Vicki Marble faction" to undermine Call.
As everyone knows, Rep. Amy Stephens faces a very tough road to the GOP nomination for Senate in 2014, in large part due to her (erratic) support for the legislation that created Colorado's health insurance marketplace. If Norton had prevailed against eventual nominee Ken Buck in 2010, and she nearly did, this undermining of the institutional Republican Party by legitimizing bypassing the assembly process would have occurred then.
Instead, Amy Stephens would like to undermine it now–and it looks like the party's chairman is ready to help.