The Republican Party in Colorado is having a crisis of confidence, facing increasing calls from within for Chairman Dave Williams to step down following a raucous GOP assembly last weekend and, in the days that followed, bitter infighting in full view.

Huerfano County Republican leadership in southern Colorado this week signed a letter demanding Williams “immediately resign his position,” while state lawmaker and congressional candidate Richard Holtorf said the same.

In an Eastern Plains stronghold, Yuma County Republicans took to Facebook to lambaste the state party for endorsing certain GOP candidates as a move that “undermines the electoral process within our party.” The endorsees include U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert in her run for the 4th Congressional District, after she secured the top line at the assembly.

Still others expressed alarm after party officials ejected a Colorado Sun political reporter from the party assembly in Pueblo on Saturday because of Williams’ belief that the reporter’s coverage of Republicans had been “very unfair.” He later told Colorado Politics that he would’ve prohibited The Denver Post and 9News from covering the assembly, too.

In the face of all the criticism, the party under Williams has doubled down.

On its official account on the social media platform X, the state GOP went after Republican officeholders and candidates who criticized Williams, calling 4th District congressional candidate Deborah Flora a “dishonest, say-anything” politician after she protested the party’s removal of the reporter from the venue. State Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer, a prominent figure from Brighton, caught fire from the party on the same issue.

“What’s disgusting is your shameless boot licking of the corrupted fake news media that pushes propaganda for Democrats,” read the state party’s reply to Kirkmeyer’s X post.

Kirkmeyer, who holds a powerful post on the Joint Budget Committee, said in an interview that Williams was being a “bully.”

“You shouldn’t be trying to intimidate people,” she said. “We’re supposed to be trying to include people in our party, not trying to push them out.”

Former state GOP chair Dick Wadhams said the turmoil at the top of the party — and the internecine warfare within — was “unprecedented.”

He placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Williams, who took the helm of the state GOP in March 2023 for a two-year term. Wadhams called Williams, a former state lawmaker who’s now running for Colorado’s open 5th Congressional District seat, “amoral and corrupt.”

“He’s only concerned about one thing — and that’s his personal ambitions,” Wadhams said. “We’ve never seen this before. I can’t believe it. We have a cesspool in the leadership of the Colorado Republican Party.”

Williams didn’t respond to several questions sent to him by The Post this week.

But state Rep. Matt Soper, a Delta Republican, thinks Williams “has done a pretty good job as state party chair.”

“He’s raised money,” Soper told The Post. “He has definitely been the thorn in the side of Democrats, which is what a state party chair has to do.”

Party fundraising has lagged at times under Williams, and this year Colorado Democrats have crowed that their fundraising in January and February dwarfed that of the GOP by at least a factor of two.

The intraparty criticism of Williams comes at a time when the Republican Party has for years lagged in state elections up and down the ballot, resulting in today’s Democratic dominance in Colorado. Democrats hold the governor’s office and wide majorities in the state legislature while occupying most seats in the state’s congressional delegation.

Soper served with Williams in the House, where Williams “was probably one of our most skilled bomb-throwers,” he said. That willingness to frustrate, insult and tweak is Williams’ “great strength,” in Soper’s view.

Williams’ weakness, though, “is himself” and his tendency to “march forward until he gets the answer he wants.”

“I guess from Dave Williams’ perspective, pushing out certain members within the party is OK because you’re kind of cleaning house,” Soper said. “I feel like when we’re this far in the minority, that’s challenging to do. My whole plea to the state party is (that) I need help — I need more Republicans down here in the trenches fighting for us. At the end of the day, I don’t really care how we do it.”

Soper, too, came in for the party’s scorn earlier this week, after he posted his disagreement with barring the reporter from the assembly on X. The party’s account replied: “The fake news media won’t like you more if you suck up to them, Matt.”

Chairman of the Colorado Republican Party Dave Williams speaks in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington. The U.S. Supreme Court that day took up the Colorado case that challenged whether Donald Trump was ineligible for the 2024 ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Campaign finance complaint filed

For Kelly Maher, a longtime Colorado Republican strategist, the objections go beyond Williams’ conduct at the Pueblo assembly last weekend, where some in the party also took issue with policy and platform votes that went Williams’ way.

Last week, Maher filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Williams, alleging he improperly used state party monies to help his congressional campaign.

Specifically, she claimed that Williams spent more than $16,000 in state party funds in February to produce and mail a flyer to voters in El Paso County targeting a primary opponent in the 5th District race, Jeff Crank. Maher’s complaint called the mailer a “poorly veiled” attack on then-presidential contender Nikki Haley but noted that the piece mostly targeted Crank and a political action committee that had endorsed him — a move she said violated federal campaign finance laws.

“He will burn the Republican Party to the ground in his singular goal of getting to Congress,” Maher said in an interview. “He cannot accomplish his goals without cannibalizing everyone else.”

Four years ago, Colorado’s unaffiliated voters — by far the largest chunk of the electorate — backed President Joe Biden by 25 percentage points over then-President Donald Trump, according to an exit poll taken at the time.

That gulf means Republicans can ill-afford to be training their ire on each other, said Kristi Burton Brown, Williams’ predecessor as GOP chair.

“When we are attacking our own conservatives, the goal of growing the party is really hard to achieve,” she said.

Burton Brown also said the endorsement of GOP candidates during the primary season — Trump received his own blessing from the state party back in January, ahead of the Iowa caucuses and Colorado’s March 15 presidential primary — is potentially counterproductive.

“It’s supposed to be a neutral body that opens up election pathways for Republicans,” she said of the state party. “Anytime the party picks and chooses candidates in a race, it gives voters the appearance of backroom deals.”

Holtorf, the state representative from Akron who is running for former U.S. Rep. Ken Buck’s seat, lashed Williams for the party’s endorsement of Boebert this week in the crowded GOP primary race and called for him to step down.

Holtorf made the June 25 primary ballot on Wednesday after state election officials deemed that he had gathered enough signatures in the district, as did another Republican contender, state Rep. Mike Lynch. Boebert and Flora had qualified for the primary ballot via petition last month, and other contenders could make the ballot, too.

“My vision of the Republican Party is (that) it’s the Republican Party of the Reagan era,” Holtorf said. “It’s a big tent. The purity test … that’s being promoted by the papacy of the Republican Party under Dave Williams’ leadership is not the direction we need to go. We need to rebuild our party. We need to welcome everybody back.”

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 19: From left to right Senators Bob Gardner, Paul Lundeen, Larry Liston, and Barbara Kirkmeyer chat with each other after voting on SB23B-001 in the Senate chambers at the Colorado State Capitol on November 19, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. Colorado lawmakers had to gaveled in Friday for a special session before the Thanksgiving holiday. The Democratic-majority General Assembly has outlined proposals to reduce elements of the property tax formula to provide relief, to flatten tax refunds due under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights so that all taxpayers receive an equal amount, to increase tax credits for low-income households and to provide more money for the state's emergency rental assistance program. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
From left to right, state Sens. Bob Gardner, Paul Lundeen, Larry Liston and Barbara Kirkmeyer chat with each other after voting on a bill in the Senate chambers during a special session at the Colorado State Capitol on Nov. 19, 2023, in Denver. Republicans hold 12 of the chamber’s 35 seats. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

‘Becoming Republican again’

Williams has also run into criticism from fellow Republicans for his desire to close GOP primaries to all but affiliated party voters, a stance Wadhams calls “dumbfounding.”

The state party sued Secretary of State Jena Griswold last summer in federal court, seeking to invalidate a ballot measure passed by voters in 2016 that opened up Colorado’s political primaries to unaffiliated voters. A judge rejected the party’s claim in February. The party’s central committee has failed to clear the high threshold needed to opt out of primaries — despite continuing pressure from Williams and others in the party, including at last week’s assembly.

Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, said his job is to counter the Democratic surge in Colorado by supporting Republicans in swing districts and conservative districts.

“I’m trying to attract as many people to the Republican brand as possible,” Lundeen said. “That includes conservatives and unaffiliated. (Williams is) gonna do what he’s gonna do.”

And Williams doing what he does is exactly what Rep. Scott Bottoms, a Colorado Springs Republican, wants to continue seeing.

“For quite a few years, we have just been getting more and more liberal and more and more middle of the road — more of an establishment mentality — and it was hurting us,” said Bottoms, a freshman lawmaker who’s among the most conservative in the Capitol. “Just because they have an ‘R’ after their name doesn’t mean they’re Republicans. We’re starting to see those (voter) rolls turned back around to where people are becoming Republican again.”

When he first ran for office two years ago, Bottoms said, he was told to tone down his anti-abortion beliefs. He praised Williams for embracing his position on the issue from the party chair position.

But Wadhams, the former party chair, said the anemic turnout at the Republican assembly in Pueblo — just 2,100 or so delegates out of 3,500 invited showed up, he said — was a flashing red light that new leadership was needed.

There is no way to build a “winning coalition” by alienating people, Wadhams said, especially from within the party.

“It is a hollowing out of the party,” he said. “The Democrats have a stranglehold on the state like they haven’t had since the 1930s.”

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