BOULDER – The Republican field for governor narrowed from seven candidates to four Saturday at the party’s state assembly, where former state senator Mike Kopp took home the most votes in the governor’s race.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler took second place, just 18 votes behind Kopp among nearly 3,800 ballots cast.
Kopp will get the top line on the party’s ballot at the June 24 primary, when the party will choose its candidate for the November election. He and Gessler will join Tom Tancredo and possibly Bob Beauprez, both former congressmen who petitioned onto the primary ballot instead of going through the state assembly.
Kopp, an underdog coming into the assembly, drew on his background as an Army Ranger and a hot-shot firefighter when addressing the crowd at the University of Colorado basketball arena.
“Surrender is not a Ranger word, and it’s not a conservative word,” Kopp said.
Candidates who got less than 30 percent of the vote Saturday were pushed out of the race. State Sen. Greg Brophy, businessman Steve House and rancher Roni Bell Slyvester all saw their campaigns end Saturday.
As expected, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, won top billing in the party’s race for U.S. Senate. Underdog Senate candidate Randy Baumgardner, a state senator, failed to get above the 30 percent mark.
Democrats also held their state assembly Saturday, where they formally nominated Sen. Mark Udall and Gov. John Hickenlooper to run for re-election.
Kopp said he was not surprised by his first-place finish.
“Step one of the journey is over, and we’re excited to get going on step two,” Kopp said.
Baumgardner appealed to supporters of the pro-life personhood movement, which would extend legal rights to fertilized eggs from the moment of conception. Gardner renounced support for the movement after announcing his Senate candidacy.
“I do not change,” Baumgardner said. “I will not step away from personal issues because it may seem more viable to the voting public.”
Gardner, though, kept his sights trained on Udall, the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“We will defeat Mark Udall, and we will make Harry Reid a footnote in history,” Gardner said.
In the governor’s race, state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, seconded the nomination for Brophy.
“He’s smart, he’s capable and he can debate like anybody,” Roberts said. “He will lead this state back to Colorado values, not Washington, D.C., dictates.”
But Brophy’s campaign, which concentrated on rural delegates, was not able to overcome Gessler’s statewide visibility or Kopp’s support from conservative stalwarts.
Most of the candidates hit Hickenlooper on his support for President Barack Obama’s health-care law, for signing gun bills and for deferring the execution of mass murderer Nathan Dunlap.
But they also took swipes at each other, without mentioning their competitors by name.
Brophy went after Gessler, the presumed frontrunner, for his controversial tenure as secretary of state. Brophy said Republicans can’t afford a candidate who “has so much baggage they will drag down every Republican on the ticket.”
Gessler hit back, saying attacks on him shouldn’t bother Republicans.
“I am tired of weak-kneed Republicans who think that every Democrat attack means disaster,” Gessler said.
He also took a swipe at Beauprez and Tancredo, who ran for governor in 2006 and 2010.
“Two disastrous gubernatorial elections are enough,” Gessler said, noting that he is the only candidate to have won a statewide election.
The only other contested race was for attorney general. State Rep. Mark Waller just barely made the ballot, taking 30.7 percent of the vote, behind Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who will claim the top line on the June primary ballot.