The cacophony of the presidential race, and the localized buzz surrounding key state house and senate races, have to some extent drowned out the budding contest for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Michael Bennet. The Senate race hasn’t exactly been ignored — it is, after all, still considered a competitive seat, sure to attract a plenitude of cash, and such contests are difficult to overlook — but it might seem to the layperson to have been shuffled farther back in the political deck, especially since the somewhat disappointing withdrawal of George Brauchler back in late September.
Since that time, most of the activity surrounding the Senate contest has been a speculative enterprise centered on whom else the GOP might find to take on Bennet. And let’s face it, such speculation hardly merits much attention, partly because A) most of the guesses end up being wrong, and B) it never really stops. I mean, who among you have not already thought about who the next governor might be?
The pending entry of state Representative Jon Keyser into the fray promises to resuscitate interest in the race, which — as so often is said in Colorado — could easily end up becoming one of the most expensive in the nation. Keyser has a strong biography which could very well see him almost immediately become the odds-on favorite in what is an already rather crowded field.
It may not be a walk-in for Keyser. State Senator Tim Neville has the backing of a number of hard-right conservatives in the state, including the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. Former congressional candidate Ryan Frazier brings some name recognition and an interesting campaign presence. Colorado Springs businessman Robert Blaha brings a substantial bank account. And the race’s first candidate, El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn — while he often can be heard complaining about his lack of media attention — is indeed making the rounds among the grassroots in the state, appealing to the tea party wing with his strong positions against, for instance, Common Core and Obamacare.
But each have their weaknesses too. The support Neville enjoys from the RMGO could backfire, as some conservatives are growing weary of the group’s attacks on Republicans, which many believe serve only to cost GOP seats. It also opens him up to being painted as “extreme” by the Bennet camp. Frazier, though often believed by some to be potentially a strong candidate, has already lost two elections (fool me once, shame on…) Blaha brings his own cash to the party, but will have trouble carving out a niche for himself with the tea party primary vote being disbursed among several candidates, and the presence of (currently) two other candidates from Colorado Springs — Glenn and Charles Ehlers, both of whom suffer from lack of money and name identification.
Keyser avoids most of these pitfalls; while a staunch conservative, he is not plagued by the same “extreme” label that Neville seems branded by. He has an examinable House record, and solid name recognition. Add to that an admirable military record, impressive rhetorical and political skills, and a slew of all-important tertiary factors — a youthful countenance and a measure of likability for instance — and Keyser quickly begins to take the form of a candidate who could quickly solidify statewide support and attract money from donors. Tack on to that list Keyser’s strong national security chops which many donors would love to see contrasted to Bennet’s seemingly very weak and peculiar election year vote for the Iran Deal (can’t you just see the ad spots?), and we’ve got ourselves a real race.
There will, of course, remain some speculation as to other potential entrants. On the far side of the Rockies, the West Slope Scott’s — Tipton, McInnis, and Ray — have each been rumored as possible contenders. But Tipton seems happy in a House seat that is his for as long as he wants it, especially with his new position on the powerful House Banking Committee, through which Tipton has run some impressive legislation. McInnis, while never one to fully take your eye off of, similarly appears happy being Mesa County Commissioner, where he still gets to lock horns from time to time with federal agencies in periodic battles of will in which only the foolhardy would place bets. And state Senator Ray Scott has been quiet about the possibility of his taking a stab at it since he fanned the flames of speculation with The Statesman just after Brauchler’s withdrawl. Other names around the state have been bandied about, but the available pool of qualified candidates is depleting fast, and it is increasingly questionable whether any would have wherewithal to attract the funding and support necessary to secure the nomination, and subsequently go on to supplant Bennet.
Keyser has the ability to do just that, and so appears well positioned to assume the mantle of frontrunner in the quest for the GOP Senate nomination. If nothing else — and there certainly is much more than “nothing else” going on here — his entry should make the race worthy of every bit of the attention it will almost certainly attract.
Kelly Sloan is a Grand Junction-based political and public affairs consultant, journalist and is a Centennial Institute fellow in energy policy.
CORRECTION: Senate candidate Ryan Frazier has lost two elections, not three, as an earlier version of this article stated. Frazier lost a challenge against U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter in 2010 and lost to Steve Hogan in a run for mayor of Aurora in 2011. He was running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2010 but switched races to run against Perlmutter instead.