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Colorado Republican Party endorses 'conservative warrior' Ron Hanks in primary for open 3rd CD seat

By Ernest Luning from Colorado Politics

May 16, 2024 Updated May 17, 2024

Photo: Ron Hanks at the Colorado State Assembly April 5, 2024

(Ernest Luning)

The Colorado Republican Party on Wednesday endorsed former state Rep. Ron Hanks in the six-way primary for the congressional seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, who is running in another district.

Calling Hanks "a conservative warrior," the state GOP said the endorsement reflected Hanks' better chances of keeping the Western Slope-based 3rd Congressional District in Republican hands, while expressing "grave concerns" about his two leading primary rivals.

Hanks, a retired military intelligence officer and second-place finisher in Colorado's 2022 U.S. Senate primary, described himself in an email to Colorado Politics as "the only pro-Trump, America First candidate in the CD3 race, and the only candidate with a proven conservative record." He added that his objectives in this year's election include being part of a conservative Congress that can help former President Donald Trump "enact his MAGA agenda."

Hanks' primary opponents slammed the endorsement as cronyism, while the state's Democratic Party chair called the pick unsurprising but suggested it could backfire on the GOP.

The endorsement came a day after the state party formally threw its support behind Janak Joshi, another former state lawmaker, in the competitive 8th Congressional District, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Yadira Caraveo is seeking a second term. Previously, the party endorsed Boebert and state GOP Chairman Dave Williams, who is also running for Congress, under new rules allowing the state Republicans to make endorsements in contested primaries.

Hanks told Colorado Politics he looks forward to working with Joshi, Boebert and Williams to help Trump "drain the swamp" in Washington.

In a statement announcing its endorsement, the Republicans praised Hanks for not only answering a questionnaire — sent by the party to candidates who qualified for the primary at GOP assemblies — but for posting his answers on his campaign site "for the public to see."

The other Republican who gained a slot in the 3rd CD primary at the district assembly, State Board of Education member Stephen Varela, refused to participate and told the party not to "interfere" in the primary, a reaction that drew scathing criticism from the state GOP in its statement endorsing Hanks.

"Ron Hanks has a proven record of defending taxpayers as a conservative warrior. Ron Hanks will secure the border, cut out-of-control taxes and spending, protect the unborn, defend the Second Amendment, and enthusiastically support our 2024 Republican Presidential Nominee, President Donald J. Trump," the party said, adding that the GOP "especially appreciates his work on election integrity and border security as the two go hand in hand."

Hanks, who attended the rally outside the White House on Jan. 6, 2021, but didn't enter the Capitol, has repeatedly said he believes Trump won the 2020 presidential election. Describing himself as a "pro-Trump warrior," Hanks launched his 2022 U.S. Senate bid with a video showing him blowing up a piece of office equipment labelled "Dominion Voting Machine" and heads a state GOP committee devoted to election security. Last year, he called on Republican members of county canvass boards to decline to certify the off-year election, though only a handful complied.

Before explaining why Hanks had its support, the state GOP excoriated Grand Junction attorney and first-time candidate Jeff Hurd, who petitioned his way into the primary, and Varela, who barely edged out Hanks in delegate votes to win top-line designation on the primary ballot at the district assembly.

"While the Party would ultimately support whichever candidate wins the Republican Primary election, we have grave concerns about the other major contenders in this race," the GOP said.

Hurd, who challenged Boebert in the primary before switching districts, came under fire for what the party termed his "original and problematic reason for running," by offering a more moderate alternative to "conservative stalwart Lauren Boebert."

The party also blasted Hurd for refusing to commit to voting for Trump this fall and for accepting an endorsement from the political arm of the conservative Americans for Prosperity organization, which spent heavily to oppose Trump in this year's presidential primaries.

"These issues combined with his refusal to gain ballot access through the grassroots caucus and assembly process makes Jeff Hurd a poor candidate to be our Party’s standard-bearer in CD3," the party said.

Hurd's campaign told Colorado Politics that voters aren't going to be happy with a few party insiders disparaging Republican candidates. In addition, his campaign said, Hurd is the only Republican with enough broad support — including a solid fundraising lead, a slew of endorsements and volunteers throughout the district — to take on Frisch and the Democrats who are targeting the seat.

The party also tore into Varela for declining to complete its questionnaire, including explaining his multiple party switches, his history of voting for Democrats and his work heading a political action committee that attacked Boebert during her first run in 2020.

That refusal, the party said, "makes him much more likely to be defeated by Adam Frisch through his inability to convince voters that he is the best choice for CD3, especially with libertarians vowing to run a spoiler candidate against him as well as Jeff Hurd."

Libertarian nominee James Wiley told Colorado Politics on Wednesday that he intends to stay on the general election ballot in the 3rd CD no matter who the Republicans nominate, so long as the nominee hasn't signed a pledge the minor party produced last year as part of a deal worked out with Williams to avoid siphoning votes from GOP candidates in competitive races. So far, none of the six candidates in the Republican primary have signed the pledge.

In a statement responding to the Hanks endorsement, Varela denounced the state GOP and its decision to weigh in on primaries, accusing the party of "endorsing division and failure."

"Republican and conservative activists across our state are furious that our party has been hijacked by a cabal of imposters," Varela said. "They should be. I was honored to earn the support of conservative activists at the CD3 assembly. For three so-called 'Republican' leaders to snub those activists is unconscionable."

By endorsing Hanks, Varela said, the state GOP is playing into the hands of the same Democrats who spent millions in 2022 trying to help Hanks win the U.S. Senate primary. Varela added that Hanks not only eventually opposed the Republican who defeated him in the primary but has refused to commit to supporting the eventual nominee in this year's 3rd CD primary.

Two years ago, before Hanks lost the Senate primary to construction company owner Joe O'Dea, state Republicans cried foul when Democratic groups spent roughly $5 million to flood the state with TV ads and mailers calling Hanks "too conservative" for Colorado in an apparent bid to boost a candidate considered to be a less formidable challenger to incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

The state Republican Party at one point threatened to file a criminal complaint and sue the organization behind mailers that asserted the GOP had "endorsed" Hanks — citing his win at the state party assembly — calling the claim "criminal, false and malicious."

Hanks carried the vote in the 3rd CD but lost the statewide primary by about 9 percentage points. He later backed the Libertarian nominee, calling O'Dea a "fake Republican, a pay-to-play opportunist with no conservative values or agenda."

Varela said that the state Republicans had it wrong.

"I've spent my life running toward challenge," he said. "As the one candidate in this race working to support Donald Trump, unite the Republican Party, and focus on conservative policy accomplishments, I will continue to energetically travel our great district in pursuit of those goals. I'm excited to add rebuilding our great party to winning CD3 to my current mission."

Colorado Democratic Party Chair Shad Murib disagreed with Varela, telling Colorado Politics that his GOP counterparts made an appropriate choice that reflects the party's priorities.

“Ron Hanks is a perfect fit for the MAGA CO GOP and is going to be a rubber stamp vote, like Lauren Boebert, for a far-right agenda focused on hurting working people and putting DC elites over rural families," Murib said in a text message.

"He’d be a terrible representative for this district and we’re not at all surprised that this election-denying weirdo who wants to force women to carry pregnancies caused by rape and incest is exactly who the GOP wants."

One of the other Republicans on the congressional district's primary ballot, Carbondale financial advisor Russ Andrews, struck a more conciliatory note in a statement to Colorado Politics.

"While I don’t believe state political parties should be endorsing candidates in primaries, I would like to extend my congratulations to Ron for having received the endorsement," Andrews said.

First-time candidates Curtis McCrackin and Lew Webb are also running in the primary. Both qualified by petition, rather than at the assembly, so weren't eligible to receive the state party's endorsement.

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