The ranks of Colorado Republicans vying to chair the state GOP has grown to seven with the addition of Kevin McCarney, a former Mesa County Republican chair who says he's the only candidate with "actual hands-on experience" running a party organization.
McCarney launches his bid less than a week before the state GOP's leadership election, joining former state lawmakers Kevin Lundberg and Dave Williams, former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, former congressional nominees Casper Stockham and Erik Aadland and grassroots organizer Aaron Wood. The Republican state central committee is set to meet on Saturday in Loveland to pick a chair, vice chair and secretary, part of the biennial reorganization process both of the state's major party's began last month.
The Republicans' incumbent state chair, Kristi Burton Brown, announced in December that she wouldn't seek a second two-year term, meaning the Colorado GOP will be naming its sixth chair in as many terms.
McCarney said he decided to jump in the state chair race at the 11th hour after several Republicans told him they couldn't get behind any of the current candidates.
The state GOP is charting a course forward in the wake of last year's election losses, when Democrats swept every statewide race, won Colorado's new congressional seat and expanded majorities in the legislature, leaving Republicans with less power than at any time since at least the 1930s.
McCarney, an insurance agent and campaign veteran — he ran former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign in Mesa County — says Republicans of all stripes need to set aside their differences and get on the same page.
"If we’re going to win in Colorado, we’re going to need everybody in line, pulling the same way," he told Colorado Politics.
Referring to a scene from the 1960 Kirk Douglas movie "Spartacus," McCarney said in an email announcing his candidacy that it's time for Republicans to stop trying to outdo each other by boasting that they're more conservative than their fellow partisans.
"I strongly argued for the need to rid ourselves of the Spartacus syndrome of who is more conservative," he said. "Unfortunately, we have become even more divided. Some folks think that they have (the) right to judge who is a 'Real Republican.' We can not go down that road anymore. If we are going to change Colorado, we are going to need every single Republican to be involved. Moderate, Conservative, Rural and Urban."
Added Carney, who is fond of capitalizing words in his written communications: "We either lift every Republican Voice, or we doom ourselves to Failure."
He maintains the party's internal divisions spelled disaster in last year's midterms.
"We were our own worst enemies," McCarney said. "A lot of it was our own infighting, which cost us a lot of votes. A lot of it was the Tina Peters effect, which cost us a lot of votes. We did our own damage to our own selves. Who wants to be involved with a group if the people can’t even get along with one another?"
Last summer, McCarney urged Peters to resign as Mesa County's top election official when she pursued a statewide recount after losing the GOP primary for secretary of state by more than 86,000 votes, or nearly 15 percentage points.
"Tina, all on your own you have created a new Wing of the Republican Party, the Delusional Sore Loser Wing," McCarney wrote in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, adding that he was "embarrassed to ever have been a supporter."
Peters is facing a trial in Grand Junction in August on seven felony charges related to allegations she helped breach her county's secure voting system as part of a scheme to prove unfounded claims that the election equipment was rigged.
Peters, who denies she broke the law and insists the charges against her are politically motivated, was convicted last week on a misdemeanor obstruction charge for trying to prevent local prosecutors from obtaining a tablet computer she used to record court proceedings in an unrelated case, in defiance of the judge's prohibition.
In last week's testimony, it emerged that Peters had help creating an email account for a pseudonym she sometimes used, in an effort to perpetuate the fiction that the tablet computer sought under a search warrant belonged to someone else.
McCarney said Peters' habit of blaming "the machines" and political rivals for her difficulties runs contrary to Republican values.
"We’re supposed to be the party of accountability, and 'it’s not my fault' doesn’t work," he said.
Distinguishing himself from the other six Republican state chair candidates, McCarney says there's no question Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, though he suggested in an interview that social media companies helped tip the scales to Biden by blocking conservative voices.
"I think people going after the machines are going down a hole we don’t need to go down," McCarney said. "The result was, Joe Biden won, and it’s pretty clear. We need to look forward. If we keep fighting 2020 over and over again, we're going to lose over and over again."
Three of his rivals — Peters, Williams and Wood — stated flatly at a recent state chair debate that they believe Trump won the 2020 election. At the same debate, Lundberg said he thinks Trump won but can't be sure. Aadland said the party needs to quit rehashing the last presidential election and conceded that Biden won "by hook or by crook," adding, "Whether fraud dictated a role in the outcome of 2020, well, sadly, we'll never know folks." Stockham said he agreed with Aadland.
Instead of fighting old battles, McCarney said, Republicans need to "be much sharper" and focus on turnout, including encouraging campaigns to "harvest" mail ballots up to the legal limit.
McCarney told Colorado Politics that he supported the state party's decision to impose outside supervision on last month's El Paso County GOP leadership election.
He volunteered that as a member of the state Republicans' executive committee he voted to censure El Paso County chair Vickie Tonkins after she reprimanded local Republican candidates just days before the November election.
"Your job as county chairman is to support the candidates brought before you in the primary, and she didn’t," he said, adding, "If I had pulled what Vickie did (as county chair), my butt would’ve been bouncing on I-70 — they would’ve thrown me out so fast."
It's the second time McCarney has sought the state GOP's top job. In 2017, McCarney campaigned for state chair for about a month before switching to the race for vice chair but lost to Colorado Springs activist Sherrie Gibson by a wide margin. At the same time, Republicans elected former El Paso County GOP chair Jeff Hays as party chair in a two-way race.
During the 2017 party race, McCarney turned heads when he declared that Mesa County would break away from the state if a Republican wasn't elected governor in 2018.
“If we lose the governor’s race, you’re going to see me and other western counties in Colorado leave Colorado — we will secede,” McCarney said at a state chair debate, adding, “We feel like the left-out children.”
Democrat Jared Polis won the governor's race in 2018 — and was reelected to a second four-year term last year — but Mesa County has remained one of Colorado's 64 counties.
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