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Republican primary voters in Colorado reject slate of candidates who embraced election conspiracies

‘I think the Republican Party returned to sanity tonight,’ said Dick Wadhams, former chairman of the state GOP
Supporters of U.S. Republican Senate candidate Joe O’Dea cheer at a watch party after the primary election on Tuesday at Mile High Station in Denver. O’Dea defeated Rep. Ron Hanks, winning the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, and will face Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, in November. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Republican primary voters in Colorado had a choice Tuesday: Elevate a slate of candidates who believe the unfounded claim that President Donald Trump was the true winner of the 2020 election or pick candidates who want the GOP to move on.

For the most part, with some notable exceptions, voters selected the latter.

State Rep. Ron Hanks lost his bid for U.S. Senate. Former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez fell short in his second gubernatorial campaign. And indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters fared so poorly that she was slated to come in third in the Republican secretary of state’s primary to an Australian immigrant who lives in Yuma County and was making his first foray into politics.

Peters, who claimed Tuesday night without evidence that she was the victim of election fraud, was even set to lose in her home county.

Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters at the GOP Assembly in the World Arena on April 9 in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun file)

“I think the Republican Party returned to sanity tonight,” said Dick Wadhams, a former chairman of the Colorado GOP who warned Republicans that embracing election conspiracy theorists would sentence their party to another election cycle of defeat.

Some GOP candidates who have questioned the 2020 results did win on Tuesday.

For instance, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Garfield County Republican who was part of the effort to challenge the 2020 presidential election results in Congress, easily beat her primary challenger, state Sen. Don Coram, in the 3rd Congressional District.

Colorado state Sen. Don Coram hangs out with his thoughts during a primary election watch party Tuesday at the Bridges in Montrose. He lost to U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, who has cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. (William Woody/Special to The Colorado Sun)

But in races where the outcome was a tossup election deniers fared poorly.

Former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson, who beat Peters in the Republican primary for secretary of state, has forcefully rejected claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

“I believe that this was the safest and most secure election we’ve ever had in our country,” Anderson told The Colorado Sun on the day she announced her candidacy.

Denver construction company owner Joe O’Dea, who beat Hanks, has also rejected election conspiracies.

Both Hanks and Peters claim Trump was the true winner in 2020, though there isn’t evidence to back up that claim.

And in Colorado’s new, highly competitive 8th Congressional District, state Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer, who said that Joe Biden legitimately won in 2020, won a four-way primary that included a candidate, Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine, who has cast doubt on the results.

A poll of 800 Colorado registered voters conducted Oct. 19-24 by Global Strategy Group, a Democratic firm, in partnership with ProgressNow Colorado, a liberal political advocacy nonprofit, asked participants if they agree or disagree that Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election.

Sixty-seven percent said they agree while 29% said they disagree. Four percent said they didn’t know or refused to answer.

Among Republicans, just 38% said they agreed that Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election, while 57% said they disagreed. Among unaffiliated voters, who make up 45% of Colorado’s electorate, 69% said Biden legitimately won the 2020 election, while 27% said they disagreed.

But the poll didn’t answer whether GOP voters felt strongly enough about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election to vote for or against candidates based on their beliefs. And it appeared Tuesday that election denialism wasn’t a motivating issue for most GOP voters in Colorado.

Also possibly at play: Tens of thousands of unaffiliated voters cast ballots this year in Colorado’s Republican primaries – far more than did in 2018 – where there were more contested races.

Other candidates who have cast doubt on the 2020 results who won Tuesday include Army veteran Erik Aadland. He won a three-way GOP primary in the 7th Congressional District and said on conservative talk radio in April that he “has a sense” that fraud in the 2020 election influenced the outcome.

“Can I say definitively? No,” Aadland said on George Brauchler’s show.

Erik Aadland, who won the Republican nomination in the 7th Congressional District. (Handout)

Democrats wasted no time in attacking Aadland for his statements about the 2020 election, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee calling him too extreme for Colorado.

Republican U.S. Reps. Ken Buck, of Windsor, and Doug Lamborn, of Colorado Springs also won on Tuesday. They signed onto a 2020 lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn Trump’s loss in several battleground states. (Buck has said he has confidence in Colorado’s election processes.)

But Buck and Lamborn were also facing primary opponents who were more strident and vocal in their belief that the 2020 election was stolen. Buck’s challenger, for instance, criticized the congressman for not being more forceful in his rejection of the 2020 outcome.

University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl won her primary in the governor’s race after spending months on the campaign trail refusing to directly answer whether she thinks the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. She told The Colorado Sun and CBS4 in an interview in June that she doesn’t “believe there was enough fraud that would have flipped the election.”

“Yes, there were issues,” she said. “Mark Zuckerberg put hundreds of millions of dollars into the election to push voter turnout in certain cities. And the election laws were changed right before the election because of COVID. So there are a lot of procedural things that were weird about this election. It doesn’t mean that there were specific differences in the outcome. But we’ve got to do everything we can to move forward and ... get people confident again that their vote matters.”

Heidi Ganahl announces her run for governor on Sept. 14 at Rosie’s Diner in Monument. Ganahl, an entrepreneur, author and member of the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents, is the only remaining Republican elected statewide in Colorado. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun file)

Ganahl’s opponent, Lopez, said that he believes Trump was the true winner in 2020.

She declined to discuss the integrity of the 2020 election when asked Tuesday night after she won her primary against Lopez, saying she’s already answered the question.

“There are a lot of people who feel unsettled about all the elections,” she said. “We’ve got to do whatever we can to change that.”

Colorado Sun staff writer John Ingold contributed to this report.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.