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Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican candidate for governor of Colorado, addresses the Foothills Republicans on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, at Pinehurst Country Club in Lakewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

With three weeks to go until precinct caucuses, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced Tuesday she’s dropping her plans to petition onto the Republican gubernatorial primary ballot and will instead go through the caucus and assembly process.

In a telephone town hall conducted by her campaign, Coffman, one of nine GOP candidates for governor, told listeners she’d been gathering plenty of signatures but felt “disconnected” from potential primary voters and wasn’t “getting to have face-to-face conversations with folks” so decided to make the switch.

“Honestly, in the last three weeks as we’ve been collecting signatures, we’ve been getting lots of folks to sign petitions, but I just feel disconnected from the people who are actually going to make the decisions and vote,” Coffman said during the call. “It’s gotten harder and harder for me as a candidate to feel like I’m actually doing my job campaigning when I’m not getting to have face-to-face conversations with folks. So, I made the decision today that I am switching, and I will be going through the caucus process.”

Precinct caucuses are March 6. In order to qualify for the June primary ballot, candidates must receive support from at least 30 percent of delegates to the April 14 state assembly. Their selection process starts at caucuses.

For Coffman to petition on, it would require the signatures of 1,500 registered Republicans from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts. GOP operatives told Colorado Politics that firms are charging around $250,000 to gather enough signatures to secure a ballot position — potentially a high hurdle for Coffman, who reported roughly one-third that amount on hand at the beginning of January.

A Coffman campaign spokeswoman said earlier this month she was “weighing all options” to gain access to the ballot after veteran Republican strategists told Colorado Politics they were skeptical she could afford to mount a successful petition drive and appeared to lack the statewide volunteer organization that might be able to accomplish the effort without costing so much.

Before he withdrew from the GOP primary in late January, former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo had been the only major Republican pursuing the ballot through caucus and assembly. His absence, strategists suggested, created an opening for a widely known candidate like Coffman, who was the top vote-getter among Republicans in Colorado four years ago when she was elected attorney general.

Coffman’s switch leaves three Republicans circulating nominating petitions for governor — State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, former state lawmaker and entrepreneur Victor Mitchell and former investment banker Doug Robinson, who is also Mitt Romney’s nephew. Spokespersons for their campaigns told Colorado Politics last week that they were all sticking with the petition route.

“The caucus-assembly process is no less challenging than petitioning onto the ballot,” Republican consultant and former state GOP chair Dick Wadhams told Colorado Politics after Coffman made her announcement. “Wherever two or more potential Republican delegates are gathered a candidate needs to be there — in every corner of the state.”

Wadhams, who oversaw Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jack Graham’s successful petition drive onto the ballot two years ago, was one of the consultants who raised questions about Coffman’s ability to perform the same feat this time.

The other was Dustin Olson, who managed former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez’ campaign — the Republican qualified for the 2014 gubernatorial primary ballot by petition — and operates The Signature Gathering Company, which is handling petitions for Robinson.

Coffman’s decision, Olson told Colorado Politics in an email, was the “obvious choice out of some difficult options… unfortunately, made late and at what cost of time and money? At least now she can focus on a path.”

When Coffman initially said she planned to petition, she said it was because the method wouldn’t conflict with her day job.

“The petitioning process will allow me to balance my time between the campaign trail and serving the people of Colorado in my current role as the state’s attorney general,” she said in a statement in January. “I look forward to continuing my travel around the state and engaging with voters from urban, rural and suburban Colorado.”

A Coffman campaign spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The other Republicans going through the caucus and assembly process are former Denver County Trump campaign co-chair Steve Barlock, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez and Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III, along with two political newcomers, Jim Rundberg and Teri Kear.

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