At a Jefferson County Republican Party rally in July, a repeated cry that energized the group of politicos and volunteers was: “As Jefferson County goes, so goes Colorado.”
Republicans know that their hopes of winning back the state House and …
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Republicans know that their hopes of winning back the state House and Senate rest squarely on the shoulders of voters in Jeffco — a county that is about as evenly divided politically as any other place in Colorado or elsewhere.
A Senate seat win in Jeffco in November could flip party control in that chamber. String together a couple of victories in Jeffco House races and things get interesting there.
So why then, with so much on the line, have Republican candidates in Jefferson County been making news of late for all the wrong reasons?
Since June, three Jeffco Republican candidates seeking House and Senate seats have been accused of violating campaign finance disclosure laws — though the allegations at this point are unproven.
Meanwhile, another candidate in a House race has been tangled in a court battle over whether she's even going to be allowed on the November ballot — and that's after the previous Republican hopeful in that district withdrew his candidacy after his ties to white supremacism became known.
And political analysts have wondered since June whether Jefferson County primary voters were wise to pick candidates who might be too conservative to win Senate races in districts that are evenly split in party registration numbers.
“I really don't know what to say,” said Ed Ramey, a Denver attorney who specializes in government and policy litigation. “I really don't know what the problem is out there.”
But Republicans believe that Democrats are desperate to hold on to control of the Legislature and will accuse Republican candidates of just about anything to keep those seats.
All that matters is what happens in November. Republicans say. And they are confident that voters will see through the “politics” of these recent “distractions.”
“Voters have woken up,” said Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada. “They are watching all of these (Democrat-sponsored) bills signed that are taking away rights, costing them more money and making their lives harder to live the American dream.”
Accusations piling up
Last week, former state Sen. Tim Neville was accused of campaign finance violations by Christopher O'Dell, the former chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party.
Neville is challenging Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk, in Senate District 16, which includes parts of Jefferson County, including Golden.
Ramey, on behalf of O'Dell, wrote a letter to Neville expressing concern that Neville had been using a website to solicit donations that exceed campaign finance law limits.
Neville, in an emailed response to Ramey, denied any wrongdoing and said he appropriately reported all donations to the Secretary of State's Office.
The accusation against Neville has not been an isolated incident for county Republicans to deal with this election cycle.
Also last week, Jefferson County Democratic Party Chairman Dwayne Stephens accused Stacia Kuhn, a Republican running in House District 28, of taking “illegal corporate money” in her campaign against Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood.
Stephens said he plans to file a formal complaint against Kuhn if the money is not returned.
And, back in June, Robert Ramirez ended his House District 29 bid just days before the Republican primary after a Democratic Party operative in Jefferson County filed a complaint alleging that Ramirez had failed to file campaign finance disclosures.
A vacancy committee tabbed Susan Kochevar as Ramirez's replacement to challenge Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, in the fall.
“They're so divided in their own party … that you have this turmoil that (results in) nobody knowing what to do or how to follow campaign finance laws,” Stephens said.
Then there's the Republican Party's struggle to field a candidate against Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, who represents House District 23.
Tyler's expected opponent, Nate Marshall, dropped out of the race shortly after it was revealed that he had white supremacist ties as well as a criminal record.
For now, the GOP's replacement for Marshall is Jane Barnes. However, two residents in HD 23 have submitted filings in district court alleging that the vacancy committee that met to select Barnes as the party's candidate did not convene on time and that her name should be removed from the ballot. That case was still pending as of last week.
And some wonder whether candidates that Jeffco Republican primary voters chose to pit against two Democratic senators this fall might be too conservative for general election voters.
Primary voters in Senate Districts 19 and 22 picked Laura Woods and Tony Sanchez to face Sens. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada and Andy Kerr of Lakewood. The voters choose Woods and Sanchez — who were backed by the influential Rocky Mountain Gun Owners — over their more moderate primary opponents.
GOP not giving up
But Republicans think they can win seats in Jefferson County this fall. They believe that Gov. John Hickenlooper and Democratic lawmakers overreached on issues like gun control, taxes and education, and that voters will hold them accountable.
Republicans in Jeffco are also hopeful that they'll see a repeat performance from last fall, when conservatives easily won school board races there and handily defeated a tax that sought to increase funding for schools.
And party leaders say that voters are smart and are able to look at the allegations for what they're worth and base their decisions on the candidate as a whole.
“It is frustrating when you hear a lot of negative things coming out, especially ethical questions,” said Jefferson County Republican Chairman E.V. Leyendecker. “But then you look at these things and ask if they're true or not true.”
“I would like to hope the voters in Jeffco don't base their votes on a single issue and that they consider the whole picture of what the candidates stand for.”
Szabo dismisses the accusations as being nothing but a game of politics. She said the allegations against Neville are easily explainable and Ramirez isn't on the ballot for voters to consider.
“I don't believe it's going to hurt us,” she said. “I think a lot of this is playing politics more than the actual violation being valid.”
As for whether candidates like Sanchez and Woods are too conservative to win over moderates in November, Leyendecker said that's up to the voters to decide.
“I won't comment on whether that's good or bad — that's the voters' choice,” he said. “And I know you want someone in my position to say, `This is terrible,' but I'm not. It's up to the voters.”
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