ENGLEWOOD — Colorado Republicans elected U.S. Rep. Ken Buck on Saturday to head the state party for the next two years.
"We will re-elect President [Donald] Trump; we will re-elect [U.S. Sen.] Cory Gardner; we will retake the state legislature; and we will hold our heads proud and high as we let the world know, this is not a blue state — not on our watch," Buck said to cheers at the state GOP's reorganization meeting at Englewood High School.
Gardner, considered among the most vulnerable Republican senators seeking re-election in 2020, nominated Buck, calling the Windsor Republican "a fighter."
"And we need him, I need him, this country needs him," Gardner said.
It took four rounds of balloting for Buck to win an outright majority over three other candidates, including state Rep. Susan Beckman of Littleton, outgoing state GOP Vice Chairwoman Sherrie Gibson of Colorado Springs, and former gubernatorial hopeful Steve Barlock, who entered the race just before the vote.
Buck, a former district attorney, has vowed to remain in Congress, where he is serving a third term representing Weld County, parts of Douglas County and the eastern plains.
He plans to appoint former state GOP Chairman Steve House to run the party's day-to-day operations, likening the arrangement to a corporate chairman (Buck) and CEO (House).
Republicans also elected attorney Kristi Burton Brown as vice chairwoman and Devin Camacho, the 22-year-old chairman of the Otero County GOP, as secretary, both by wide margins.
The incumbent state chairman, Jeff Hays, a former chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party, declined to seek a second term.
Colorado Republicans are grappling with the results of the 2018 election, when Democrats scored historic wins up and down the ballot and took complete control of state government for the first time since the 1930s.
A combative-sounding Buck drew thunderous applause as he described the stark choices he intends to offer voters in 2020.
Next year's election, he told Republicans, "is about freedom. And that's a contrast we have to draw with the other side — freedom-loving Republicans vs. socialist, corrupt Democrats."
Buck invoked controversial "red flag" legislation making its way through the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, saying, "They want to take our guns, and I say to them: 'Come and take them — and if you get them, it will be out of my cold, dead hands.'"
And in a nod to recall efforts Republicans have said they plan to launch against as many as 20 Democratic lawmakers, Buck added: "We need to teach them how to spell R-E-C-A-L-L."
Buck told Colorado Politics after the vote that he'll reach out to Republicans who supported the other candidates.
"Now we need to unite people, because it was a very close vote, and we need to move forward," he said. "We're going to move forward in a deliberate way, but as fast as we can."
Colorado Democrats on March 9 re-elected Morgan Carroll, a former state Senate president, to run their party for another two years.