In the Colorado Republican huddle, party leaders are looking toward their bench, hoping that star former quarterback John Elway can mount an impressive drive for the party.
Republicans are looking at 2018, when an open gubernatorial seat could be ripe for the taking. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is term-limited in two years, and Republicans and Democrats are expected to battle for control of the state.
In Republican circles across Colorado, a familiar wish is entering conversations—could Elway announce a run for office?
Speculation grew this summer that the Denver Broncos team executive was looking to become more personally involved in politics.
A long-time Republican donor who often mixes with top political elites across the state, Elway willfully participated in a pair of political ads this summer supporting a successful initiative to make it more difficult to amend the state constitution, while also opposing failed efforts to create a universal health care system and raise the minimum wage.
“Most people know me as a football guy, but I’m a Coloradan first,” Elway said in one of the ads. “I love this state, and I’m worried about the games being played with our constitution.”
It was the first time in memory that Elway had so publicly entered the political spotlight on ballot issues, though he has publicly in the past supported candidates, including former Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008.
“Put that together, the fact that he put out his first series of public statements, participation in politics, and, No. 2, there’s the Trump effect. The fact that a celebrity won the primary. And as hard as it is to raise money in Colorado, especially for a primary, having 100 percent statewide name ID gives you such a tremendous advantage,” said former state Sen. Greg Brophy, a Republican political consultant who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2014.
Friends and colleagues close to Elway doubt that the “Duke of Denver” would mount a political run in the next couple of years. Elway himself isn’t publicly discussing his political aspirations, but sources say he is preoccupied with exploring the possibility of putting together a group to purchase the Broncos.
Broncos ownership has been put into a family trust per the directive of Pat Bowlen, who stepped aside from daily operations in 2014 because of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The team was valued at $1.94 billion by Forbes in September 2015.
Putting together an ownership group to take control of the Broncos is an uphill battle, and so it’s possible that if the effort fails in the next two years, Elway would consider a run for political office, sources close to Elway say.
Robert Blaha, a former U.S. Senate candidate and Republican strategist who is friendly with Elway and even closer to Elway’s wife, Paige Green, said conversations about an Elway political future have increased recently.
“It would be fair to say that there’s a lot of people in the Republican Party who have heard John Elway’s name kicked around in a variety of different circles,” Blaha said.
The Republican gubernatorial field is shaping up to be a crowded one for 2018. Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who is considering a run, acknowledged that he has been hearing about a possible Elway run.
When asked whether he is considering the field of candidates in determining whether he wants to run for governor, Brauchler responded, “Not at all. I say ‘no’ with this asterisk: If John Elway wants to run for governor, I would say, ‘What can I do to help.’ But other than him, there isn’t anybody that could keep me from running.”
State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, another Republican considering a run for governor, responded, “John Elway has always been a great supporter of mine. Everybody loves John. He’s the consummate winner and would be a super candidate.”
But Democrats aren’t necessarily running scared over the prospect of an Elway run, either in 2018 or beyond. State Rep. Joe Salazar, a Democrat considering a run for governor in 2018, joked that politics can be brutal compared to football.
“This is a different type of game,” he said. “People aren’t going to be afraid to rough the passer.”