A decorated Army combat veteran who only recently registered as a Republican wants to take on U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, the Colorado Democrat seeking a third term in next year's election.
Erik Aadland, 41, said he was moved to run for office by the urgency of the crisis that confronts the country and believes he can bring people together.
"I think we're in crisis everywhere — at the border; we're in crisis economically," he told Colorado Politics. "But the fact is, Americans are fighting Americans. The division and the polarization is at an extraordinary level. I want to be a unifying voice and factor, not someone who is divisive."
Aadland, who lives in Pine with his wife and their three children in the Jefferson County foothills, said he decided to launch a campaign after going through candidate training with America First Republicans, a nonprofit started late last year by perennial GOP congressional nominee Casper Stockham.
"I found America First because I was following Casper on Twitter leading up the 2020 elections and then was somewhat devastated by what transpired in the elections," Aadland said Monday in an appearance with Stockham on the conservative PJNET Live video podcast.
"I just felt divinely inspired to show up there. Very quickly, he planted a seed that I should run for office," Aadland said, referring to Stockham, who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter last year and lost a bid for state Republican Party chairman in April.
Aadland said he initially considered challenging two-term U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse in the 2nd Congressional District — "which I thought was way too big for my britches at the time" — but eventually decided to run for the Senate.
"I think I'm called by God and it's been a series of synchronicities and meeting the right people and not making this decision on my own," he said. "I'm going to shoot for the stars, and if I land on the moon, well, then, I've accomplished something."
Stockham told Colorado Politics in an email that he's endorsing Aadland as an individual but not as president of the candidate training group, which isn't allowed to make endorsements.
Bennet, who was appointed to the seat in 2009 and elected to full terms in 2010 and 2016, has yet to draw a prominent GOP challenger. Peter Yu, who ran unsuccessfully against Neguse in 2018, has formed an exploratory committee and said he's considering a run, but top Republican prospects have either said they aren't going to run or are still on the sidelines.
"There is a good element of inspiration here. It is an enormous challenge. It's like climbing the Mount Everest of politics out of the gate. But it can be done," Aadland said.
Noting that Bennet had never run for office before landing in the Senate, Aadland said that means he could surprise folks.
"It is hard to say he had more experience going into the Senate than I do," Aadland said. "I could argue he didn't."
A West Point graduate, Aadland said that growing up in a military family, the only thing he wanted to be was an Army officer. Since retiring after 10 years in uniform — earning two Bronze Stars, with combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan — he worked until last year as a project manager for Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. and has been focused on creating a family.
"This feels like a call to duty for me," he said. "I am an overachiever, and I also think I have a great understanding of the issues, and if I work hard enough — and I'm going to outwork everyone in this race — then I've got a real shot at it."
He said he changed his registration from unaffiliated to Republican this spring after he began considering a run for office but describes himself as "a lifelong voter who voted Republican."
Aadland filed campaign paperwork Friday after his spending approached the $5,000 limit for exploring a run, he said, though he plans to put a campaign together over the summer and make an official announcement around Labor Day.
Aadland acknowledged that fundraising could be a hurdle for a first-time candidate — doubly so because many Republicans are convinced the 2020 election was "rigged," a belief he shares.
"If we're all convinced we're not going to get free and fair elections and they're rigged, there's little point to do it, or you would need to be such a dramatic winner that it wouldn't matter," he said.
"I think that the truth is going to come to light. I would love to be proven wrong, but to me, if you read the Navarro reports, there's a lot of material out there that calls it into question to the point where there needs to be a higher level of scrutiny beyond what was done in the recounts in Georgia and the recount in Arizona," Aadland added.
He was referring to write-ups released in December and January by then-White House trade adviser Peter Navarro that purported to document massive election fraud but, according to the conservative Washington Examiner — a sister publication to Colorado Politics — were "riddled with dubious claims" that appeared to get basic election terminology and operations wrong.
In November, officials with former President Donald Trump's Department of Homeland Security issued an assessment calling the election "the most secure in American history," rebuking claims by Trump and his allies that the election was "stolen" from him.
Aadland was blunt Monday speaking at the regular meeting of the Jefferson County Republican Men's Club in Wheat Ridge.
"This country is on the brink of being taken over by a communist government and perpetuating their communist agenda. We need to open up our eyes and be very aware of that. That’s what's happening," he said.
"The 2020 election, it was rigged. Absolutely rigged.”
He sounded less interested in making the point the next day talking to Colorado Politics.
"If I'm wrong and it's proven that there wasn't, I will eat my words, absolutely," Aadland said.
"What is compelling me to get involved is that we are a nation at crisis. We have issues that our current governing bodies are not addressing. I have real solutions that can bring people together, but I want to be a protector of individual liberties."
Said Aadland: "I offer somebody who is willing to cross the aisle and serve Democrats as well as I serve Republicans. I want to be a unifier, not a divider. I want to be a healer, not a hater. Lot of haters out there."