Understanding the nomination process for statewide primary candidates in Colorado


Last week, we wrote about seven candidates who were vying for the Republican nomination for United States Senate from Colorado, all hoping to challenge incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet. Today, two candidates remain. 

Last week, there were 18 candidates running for the Republican nomination for governor listed on the Arapahoe County GOP website. Today, two candidates remain. 

There will be three candidates in the GOP primary for Secretary of State, including one who is under criminal indictment brought by a grand jury and the Republican district attorney where she lives. 

The system that governs the process of nominating candidates for the major parties’ primaries is well-defined in state law. Colorado Revised Statutes 1-4-601 contains the rules for “Designation of candidates for primary election,” at a state assembly, such as was held by the Republicans on April 9. Colorado Revised Statutes 1-4-801 contains the rules for “Designation of party candidates by petition.” These two processes are generally independent of one another and a candidate can choose either one to accomplish their goal of getting on the primary ballot. 

If a candidate opts for the petition process, state law is very specific on the number of valid signatures of party members a candidate must get on his or her petitions for each office. For example, a candidate for governor or United States Senator must get valid signatures from “at least one thousand five hundred eligible electors in each congressional district.” After the 2020 census redistricting, our state has eight congressional districts. 

If a candidate for a statewide office opts to try to get on the primary ballot via the state assembly, that candidate must get, “thirty percent or more of the votes of all duly accredited assembly delegates who are present and voting on that office.” When there are two candidates for a position, getting 30% isn’t that difficult. When there are six or seven candidates, it can be very hard to get 30%. 

One GOP candidate for U.S. Senate and one GOP candidate for governor opted to use the petition process and they were both successful, University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl for Governor and construction company owner Joe O’Dea for Senator. State law also says that candidates chosen at the state party assemblies appear on the ballot ahead of those who get on by petition. Ganahl was seeking that top spot so she made her case at the state assembly even though she had already been certified as a candidate based on her petitions. There were three candidates for governor among whom the 3,772 GOP state assembly delegates who showed up on April 9 (out of 4,738 who were certified) most of the votes cast were split, Ganahl, former Parker Mayor and 2018 candidate for the gubernatorial nomination Greg Lopez, and Danielle Neuschwanger. Ganahl received just over 32.6% of the votes, Lopez got 34.3% and Neuschwanger got 27%. Applying the state law, that means that Neuschwanger’s quest is over and Lopez will appear on the ballot ahead of Ganahl by virtue of having gotten the larger number of delegate votes.

In the race for U.S. Senate, O’Dea did not make a speech to the delegates asking for their votes, settling to appear on the ballot after any of the other six candidates who could get at least 30%, since he was already certified by petition. One might view that as a courtesy to the other candidates since it was already a huge challenge mathematically to get that 30% when there were six people in the mix. Seven would have made it even harder. When it was all over, only state Rep. Ron Hanks, who said that former President Trump won the 2020 election and attended Trump’s January 6th rally (there are no claims that Hanks was part of the insurrection at the Capitol that followed) got enough votes, 38.98% to be exact, to ascend to the GOP primary ballot to join O’Dea. One of the two will face Michael Bennet in November. The other candidates who were considered by many to be favorites, former Miss Colorado and radio personality Deborah Flora, and former El Paso County GOP Chair Eli Bremer, took second and third place. Flora, the darling of Republican women everywhere, very nearly made it with nearly 29% of the vote. Bremer got 15%. 

If one does the math, Hanks was put on the ballot to run for United States Senator by 1,470 out of 956,734 active registered Republicans in the state. That’s fifteen hundredths of one percent. For anyone who has ever wondered about the value of getting involved in politics at the grass roots level, there is your answer. 

In the race for the GOP nomination for Secretary of State, one candidate, Pam Anderson, successfully got on the ballot by petition prior to April 9 and like O’Dea, did not ask for delegates’ votes at the state assembly. That left only two candidates seeking those votes. Tina Peters, current Mesa County Clerk, received just over 60% of the votes. Since Mike O’Donnell was the only other candidate seeking support for Secretary of State at the assembly, that left 40% for him, so all three candidates will be on the primary ballot in June, with Peters’ name at the top, followed by O’Donnell, then Anderson. 

In another element of the process, Colorado voters decided in 2016, by a margin of 53% to 47%, to allow voters who are not registered with any political party, which is 44% of all active voters in the state, to vote in the party primary of their choice. A lawsuit attempting to undo the voters’ decision and limit voting in party primaries to party members was filed on February 24 by five Republicans, including now-Senate candidate Ron Hanks. On April 8, a federal judge dismissed the suit, saying that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue and that the state GOP could exclude non-party members from its primaries by a vote of three-fourths of its state central committee to choose nominees by the assembly process and ditch primaries altogether.  

Only two major statewide offices have only one Republican candidate, who will thus appear on the November ballot. For State Treasurer, former state Rep. Lang Sias will challenge incumbent Democrat Dave Young. For Attorney General, 18th Judicial District DA John Kellner will challenge incumbent Democrat Phil Weiser. A last-minute potential entry to the race, Stanley Thorne, stood up to challenge Kellner for the nomination and actually got 42% of delegates’ votes, but he was later disqualified because, in addition to not being licensed to practice law in Colorado, he isn’t even a registered Republican. 

One other candidate is unopposed for a statewide GOP slot on the November ballot. Dan Maloit, a district sales manager for a medical device company and military veteran, is running for a newly created position, State Board of Education at-large. With the new 8th congressional district in Colorado, there would have been an even number of seats on that board because candidates run from congressional districts. The at-large position was created to avoid a potential four-to-four split between Republicans and Democrats on votes. 

Democrats, who currently occupy the top statewide offices with first-term officeholders Governor Jared Polis, Attorney General Phil Weiser, Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Treasurer Dave Young, held their state assembly virtually on April 9 and nominated the incumbents for re-election, in addition to incumbent U.S. Senator Michael Bennet.