DENVER (CBS4) – Gov. John Hickenlooper’s decision this week to issue a temporary reprieve of convicted killer Nathan Dunlap’s death penalty sentence has reinvigorated the Republican Party.

Once thought unbeatable, Republicans now see Hickenlooper as vulnerable, and they’re plotting out what they hope will be a GOP win in the 2014 governor’s race.

Tom Tancredo announced on Thursday he’s joining the race, and more well-known Republicans could jump in.

Tancredo says Hickenlooper’s decision was the final straw. He says the governor weasled out of a difficult decision that demanded leadership.

“I’m going to run for governor of the state of Colorado on the Republican ticket this time,” said Tancredo, who challenged Hickenlooper as a American Constitution Party candidate in 2010. “I’ve been around awhile and I’m controversial as hell.”

Republicans have launched their first ad online which calls out Hickenlooper for failing to allow Dunlap’s execution to proceed.

“He’s now revealing himself for who he really is and a lot more liberal than people thought,” longtime Republican strategist Dick Wadhams told CBS4.

Wadhams says in addition to the execution decision, Hickenlooper has also misjudged voters support for gun laws and a billion dollar tax increase for schools.

“It would have been emotional for anybody to make this decision, but he looked weak, and we don’t expect that from our governor,” Wadhams said.

Craig Hughes, who ran President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign in Colorado, says progressives would argue Hickenlooper has been too conservative.

“It wasn’t a political decision. This was a moral decision and you’ve got to respect that and leave the politics out of it,” said Hughes.

Regardless, Hughes said one decision doesn’t decide a race.

“I think you have to look at the whole of the term for the governor and what he’s done for Colorado. And this one piece of it, and this is a decision that factors into that,” Hughes said.

Wadhams admits defeating Hickenlooper won’t be easy.

“We need a candidate who can articulate a clear vision of what they would do as governor but also not become the issue themselves,” Wadhams said.

That will be the challenge.

“I think this governor and this legislature have pushed things way too far to the left. We need balance restored and I’m the guy that can do it,” Tancredo said.

RELATED: Tancredo Announces He’s Running For Governor

Other Republicans running for governor or strongly considering a run are include Scott Laffey, a one time U.S. Senate candidate in Rhode Island who now lives in Fort Collins, and Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

State Sen. Greg Brophy’s name has also been tossed around.

The election is 18 months away, so it’s too early to know how much any of these issues now dogging Hickenlooper will play into the race.


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