POLITICS: Campaigns

Scott Gessler may be Colorado's next conservative Republican star

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Beltway Confidential,Charlie Spiering,Taxes,Gun Control,Tea Party,Colorado,2014 Elections,Campaigns,John Hickenlooper,Conservatism,Liberalism

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler wants to be the state's next governor, but first he has to convince fellow Republicans that he is the conservative choice who can win in Colorado.

His biggest challenge will be facing former Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., one of the most influential and widely recognized Colorado conservatives.

A five-term congressman and a long-shot candidate for president in 2008, Tancredo divided the state Republican party in the 2010 gubernatorial election after he ran as an American Constitution Party candidate.

"I like Tom," Gessler told the Washington Examiner, "but I mean, he spent 10 years in Congress and consistently underperformed on the Republican ticket during good Republican years in Colorado. A lot of what the Republican party is in Colorado today is because of Tom —for better or worse."

Republicans are now happily jumping into the race after Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, presided over a term that sent Colorado lunging to the left -- including signing unpopular gun restrictions and promoting a nearly billion-dollar tax hike.

The unexpected Republican victories in Colorado's September recall elections — especially in traditionally Democratic areas — gives Republicans hope that they can win statewide in 2014.

At this point, it appears that just about anyone not named Hickenlooper might have chance to win.

An Aug. 22 Quinnipiac University poll showed Tancredo in a statistical tie with Hickenlooper, 46 percent to 45 percent. Gessler weighed in with 42 percent to Hickenlooper's 47 percent.

State Sen. Greg Brophy and former former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp have also entered the GOP primary contest.

Gessler described the last two Republican races for Colorado governor as "disasters" thanks to bitter internal feuds, but he said he is eager to heal the state party.

"I hope to help unite the Republican party through action rather than words," Gessler said. "And I think that's what we've had a lot of in Colorado, sometimes empty words."

Elected as Secretary of State in 2010, Gessler was one of the few Colorado Republicans to win a statewide race that year. Since then, he has earned the ire of the left after working to improve and verify Colorado's voter rolls.

Gessler vastly improved the Colorado Secretary of State voting website, making it easier for Colorado voters to register to vote securely online and verify citizenship by using a photo I.D.

Voter registration in 2012 rose by 13.7 percent from 2008, and 71 percent of Colorado voters voted, a nearly 2 percent boost from four years earlier.

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers recognized Gessler's efforts to improve the online experience for Colorado voters, giving him the State Technology Innovator Award.

"My goal has always been to make it easy to vote and tough to cheat," Gessler said after winning the award. "This innovative approach fits that goal and I'm very proud of my employees' commitment to making Colorado a national leader."

Gessler offers his experience as secretary of state as proof that he won't back away from a fight for what's right, and he is prepared to weather attacks from Colorado's generously funded and well-organized activist left that in recent years has turned the state from a solid red to a deep purple.

With financial support from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Hickenlooper signed restrictive gun measures, including an unpopular ban on ammunition magazines with a capacity of more than 15 rounds and a requirement for universal background checks.

Hickenlooper is now pushing for a $1 billion tax increase in the state — with more backing from Bloomberg, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

"They spend a lot more money than we do," Gessler noted.

Born in Detroit and raised in Chicago, Gessler is clearly aware of the growing distrust of the state government in Denver among voters in more rural parts of Colorado.

Gessler wants to end what he calls the Democrat-led "war on rural Colorado," which reached its peak when Democrats passed new strict gun laws.

It's not just the gun issues that are angering Colorado's rural voters. In June, Hickenlooper signed the rural energy renewables mandate, threatening higher energy costs in the state.

High taxes and increased regulations on oil and gas production in the rural part of the state also hurt a key source of job creation and economic development.

A sign of that is the 51st State Initiative, as voters in 11 rural Colorado counties vote Tuesday on plans to secede from the state.

“Under his administration, people are angry and divided," Gessler said as he announced his run for governor. "Many of our fellow Coloradans want to break away from Colorado."

Gessler believes Hickenlooper's record signals that he is no longer the obtuse moderate from 2008, but a divisive partisan Democrat who is hurting the state.

Gessler thinks 2014 will be a good year for Republicans and that the party is ready for a change. If he can unify Republicans to win the primary, perhaps he can start working to unite the state.

"I feel pretty comfortable because I feel like there is a desire to move on," Gessler said. "I think they are looking for new blood."

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