Colorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open

Colorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open
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Tuesday’s GOP Senate primary in Colorado is seen as wide open in one of the only Republican targets this cycle.

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After high-profile Republicans declined to challenge Democratic Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDe Blasio pitches himself as tough New Yorker who can take on 'Don the con' Momentum builds behind push to pass laws enshrining abortion rights The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration MORE, strategists view the five-way primary as anyone's game.

Among those running is Darryl Glenn, a conservative county commissioner endorsed by former presidential hopeful Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Eye-popping number of Dems: I can beat Trump 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate MORE (Texas) and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin; and Jack Graham, a former Colorado State University athletic director whose campaign is being run by a former state GOP party chairman.

“It is total jump ball, and I think that Darryl Glenn and Jack Graham probably have a finger on the ball, but how it pulls toward them and frankly it’s an election that could come down to less than a percentage point one way or the another,” said former state GOP party chairman Ryan Call, who is not endorsing any of the candidates.

Also running are former Aurora city councilman Ryan Frazier, who has less than $20,000 of cash on hand; businessman Robert Blaha, who has tied himself to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE and has loaned his campaign $1 million, and Jon Keyser, whose name, along with Blaha and Frazier, was ordered by a court to appear on the ballot after they fell short of having enough petition signatures.

The slate has left Republicans facing an uphill battle against Bennet.

Though they had hoped to replicate the 2014 election when then-Rep. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran Graham: Trump officials not adequately briefing on Iran threat MORE upset Democratic incumbent Mark UdallMark Emery UdallDenver Post editorial board says Gardner endorsement was 'mistake' Gardner gets latest Democratic challenge from former state senator Setting the record straight about No Labels MORE – the first time a challenger from either party defeated a sitting senator since 1978  – Republicans scrambled to find a rival this year.

Prominent Republicans passed on the race including Rep. Mike Coffman, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and George Brauchler, the prosecutor in the Aurora movie theater shooting.

Once an establishment favorite, Keyser was faced with questions about a forged signature. He was scrutinized for dodging questions and repeating the same answer, which drew negative comparisons to former GOP hopeful Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group Huawei says inclusion on US trade blacklist is in 'no one's interest' Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran MORE who was criticized for sounding scripted in the presidential debates.

“Jon Keyser, not only shot himself in the foot, but he blew his whole leg off,” independent political analyst Eric Sondermann said.

Graham has absorbed some establishment support, and observers view him as someone who could eke out a win. Graham’s campaign is notably being run by Dick Wadhams, a former state GOP chairman.

Graham is also pro-choice, a position observers view as potentially harmful in a primary but believe it could make him competitive in a general. He also went the furthest in a recent Senate debate to distance himself from Donald Trump and said the presumptive GOP nominee currently does not have his support.

Since January, Graham has loaned his campaign $1.5 million, giving him a financial boost over his competitors who on the whole haven’t raised much.

Glenn has largely consolidated grassroots support. The El Paso County Commissioner shocked state Republicans by knocking off conservative darling Tim Neville at the state's April convention and wowed them with a riveting speech.

He has since secured notable endorsements from Cruz, Palin and conservative blogger and radio host Erick Erickson.

While Glenn only has $50,000 cash on hand, he’s been kept afloat by outside spending from Tea Party-aligned groups like Senate Conservative Fund and FreedomWorks, whose super-PACs went up on the air supporting him.

Strategists expect the party to rally behind whoever becomes the nominee. But Republicans fear a repeat of the 2010 Senate race when now-Rep. Ken Buck lost to Bennet by a razor-thin margin in a year with major GOP gains and the rise of the Tea Party.

“I’d say a fairly extreme person could win the primary… but that would put them in a real disadvantage in the fall especially given that Bennet is not generally seen as a particularly extreme liberal Democrat,” said Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver.

The lack of a stand-out GOP challenger gives Bennet the upper-hand in the race. He’s raised more than $11 million since the beginning of 2015 and has $5.7 million cash on hand. In April, he launched his first TV ad in an effort to highlight his record.

“Whoever wins on Tuesday is going to wake up Wednesday morning as a decisive underdog,” Sondermann said. “I think Bennet has the upper hand for a host of reasons, but demographics being prominent among them.”

And Trump only further complicates the equation for Republicans in a state with a sizable Latino population. Latinos make up about 15 percent of the electorate, according to Pew Research Center.

The GOP standard-bearer’s inflammatory remarks about Latinos and other minority groups could jeopardize the party’s chances in states like Colorado and down-ballot candidates will have to work to engage these communities that are only becoming more critical to win elections.

“I assume whoever is the nominee will beworking very hard to reach out to members of that community to try to mitigate some of the damage that Trump is doing,” Masket said.

Following Tuesday’s primary, Republicans will have to go full steam ahead to make up for lost ground to Bennet, but they remain hopeful that there’s still a fighting chance in an unpredictable political climate.

“No matter who comes out of this primary, I still think there’s a shot against Bennet,” said GOP consultant Kelly Maher, who’s not affiliated with any campaign. “There’s a visceral anger we’re seeing across the world, and nobody has really understood how to capitalize on that yet or protect themselves from it.”