The Republican ticket is poised to pick up a fifth challenger to Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet next year.
Former Fort Collins City Councilman Gino Campana is filing his paperwork to run and is expected to make a formal announcement next week, Colorado Politics learned.
Campana, 51, is an accomplished businessman with a compelling family story to go with his years of work in the community, but moreover he is the most poised to claim the Trump mantle for next year’s primary.
With a little more than a month left in his administration, Trump appointed him to chair the Public Buildings Reform Board, a nonpartisan board that looks at reducing the federal government's real estate holdings as a cost-saving measure.
The clock ran out before he could be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which was embroiled in the Jan. 6 insurrection and Trump’s impeachment.
He wouldn't engage on whether he could win if the general election became a referendum on the bombastic former president.
"It's going to be, in my opinion, a referendum on Joe Biden and Michael Bennet, not a referendum on Trump," Campana said, citing rising crime as an example.
Is he courting an endorsement from Trump?
"You know what's most important to me? I want the endorsement of the people of Colorado in the form of a vote," he replied, "so I'm going to go out there and seek everybody's endorsement. If the former president of United States wants to give me his endorsement, I'll take it."
Asked about visiting the president at his Florida resort, as other Republicans have, Campana said, "No, I have no plans on going to Mar-a-Lago to ask for his endorsement."
That is a double-edged sword, given Trump’s lack of popularity in a state most analysts rate as safely blue, as Bennet seeks a third full term. The Republican nominee who continues to dominate the party's narrative lost in Colorado last year by nearly 14 percentage points.
Campana also wouldn't say exactly how he feels about Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who's clashed with Trump since the election.
"I'll tell you what, we're working on an announcement for candidacy for the U.S. Senate, and then I've got to work on getting out to the state of Colorado. Let them get to know who I am, because, at this point I'm not a politician. I'm a businessman, so I've got to get out there and let (voters) get to know me."
Reminded of Trump's hard feelings toward the former majority leader who doesn't buy the stolen election claim, Campana said, "I'm not concerning myself with Trump right now. Trump's going to do what Trump wants to do, when he wants to do it. What I'll put a focus on is me as being the best candidate in the state of Colorado."
Asked about whether the presidential election was stolen, Campana said, "I'll say there were a ton of problems in the last election."
Is Biden a legitimate president?
"I'll say he is the president of the United States," Campana said. "And, as he put it in his own words, the buck stops with him, so the issues we're having right now are a direct contrast to the previous administration, with regards to crime, the economy, dealing with the coronavirus, our foreign policy fall directly on Joe Biden, as our president."
The June 28 primary field so far, pending Campana's announcement, is:
- Erik Aadland, an Army combat veteran from Pine in Jefferson County, was the first Republican to announce a challenge to Bennet.
- Eli Bremer, an Air Force Academy graduate and 2008 Olympian who formerly chaired the El Paso County Republican Party.
- Juli Henry, a political newcomer, Army veteran who is the CEO and founder of the El Paso County nonprofit Helping Hands Helping the Community.
- Peter Yu, a businessman and former football player at Colorado State and Fort Lewis College, ran against Democrat Joe Neguse in the 2nd Congressional District in 2018.
Campana is the former chair of the Larimer County GOP who was elected to Fort Collins City Council in 2013. He built his business first working with his father, a stonemason who immigrated from Italy, and later buying, fixing up and selling homes, rolling over the profit.
In 1992, he founded his company, Bellisimo, which builds large multifamily projects and residential developments. His high-profile developments include Jessup Farm Artisan Village. Campana co-owns the The Farmhouse, a modern farm fare restaurant in a 133-year-old building, along with the Jessup Farm Barrel House, a neighboring brewery.
Campana grew up in Fort Collins and he has been an active volunteer there, especially as his four children grew up, coaching soccer and wrestling over a 20-year period.
He has a degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University, specializing in environmental studies, and married his high school sweetheart, Michele.
He plans to run on the economy, leaning on inflation — pointing to gasoline and grocery — and said his experience in business and the community to craft a solution, different than what Colorado has received from Bennet.
"I look at my children, the future," Campana said. "I mean, I don't feel comfortable saying they're going to live a better life than we've lived. We have politicians like Michael Bennet who don't understand the American dream, crafting programs around a cradle-to-grave dependency on government. We are in trouble. That is a representative of our state who does not understand the American dream."
How is he going to fix that?
"We're going to remind them every day with the American dream is all about," Campana said of Republicans. "We're going to remind them that Americans have to meet budgets. Americans have to make tough decisions. And the federal government should do the same decisions."
He was asked how he would handle the current debate about raising the federal debt limit, which Republicans are resisting under Biden, despite suspending the debt limit three times under Trump.
"I'm a balanced budget guy," Campana said, adding, "It's pretty simple. You can't spend more than you make."
"I can basically boil down to five things: Can we lower the taxes? We reform out-of-control regulations. We need to improve our infrastructure, while protecting our environment. We save neighborhoods, our families and our workforce. And when you make sure people are getting a good education, it's the right education for our workforce."