DENVER (AP) – Colorado Democrats were hammered in last year’s elections while Republicans had their best year at the polls in at least a decade. Yet this weekend it was the GOP that ousted its state party chairman after Democrats kept theirs.
Businessman Steve House defeated GOP Chairman Ryan Call during an election among about 400 delegates of the Colorado Republican Party’s central committee on Saturday. The vote came less than a month after Democratic Party chairman Rick Palacio narrowly held onto his job at his party’s meeting.
Republicans won the state Senate and won every statewide race other than the governor’s election in November. The election of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner broke a decade-long GOP losing streak in top-of-the-ticket races, including some contests that were lost as the party’s highly-conservative base and establishment feuded. Those conflicts began to emerge again as Call sought his third term as chairman.
Call was opposed by both tea party groups, supporters of immigration firebrand Rep. Tom Tancredo, who lost the GOP gubernatorial primary to a candidate many believed Call favored, and establishment Republicans who thought Call spent too much time on national matters and too little tending to local races. In an indication of how divisive the election became, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman supported Call while his wife, newly-elected Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, was pivotal in drumming up support for House.
“He did a great job, but his time has passed,” state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt of Colorado Springs said of Call. “We need to be able to move the party forward into consensus.”
Democrats were gleeful at Call’s ouster and used it as an opportunity to accuse the GOP of veering rightward.
“Under Steve House, Colorado Republicans are set to lurch even farther out of the mainstream, and to field more candidates for office who are hostile to the best interests of Colorado’s middle class families,” Amy Runyon-Harms of the liberal group Progress Now said in a statement.
Floyd Ciruli, a veteran nonpartisan pollster in Denver, said the contrast with the more-disciplined Democrats is striking and a worrisome sign for a GOP that seeks to unseat the state’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, and take Colorado’s nine electoral votes in the upcoming presidential election. “They’ve got some challenges ahead of them,” Ciruli said of Republicans.
Dick Wadhams spent two terms as chairman of the state GOP before battles with tea party groups led him to resign in 2011, when Call took over. On Monday, he noted that state parties are less and less important because campaign finance rulings have allowed outside players to provide the financial support that once came from parties.
“As political parties have been weakened by campaign finance laws, it seems the chaos within the parties has increased,” Wadhams said. “I don’t think it’s a very big deal in the long run.”
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The ouster is a reminder that divisions remain in the GOP that could make 2016 tougher for the party.
– By Nicholas Riccardi, AP Writer
Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed to this report.
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