Oct. 2, 2015 — An unexpected announcement was made in Colorado yesterday, as Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, the current top Republican recruit to challenge Sen. Michael Bennet (D), decided to forego a statewide run and will instead seek re-election.
This is quite an about-face from all preliminary signals detected last week. It seemed all but certain that Brauchler would enter the campaign giving Republicans a man they describe as a top-notch challenger to battle Sen. Bennet. But, would that actually have been the case?
Brauchler was the prosecuting attorney in the James Holmes case, the young man who gunned down 12 people and wounded 70 others in an Aurora, CO movie theater rampage during the summer of 2012. After many delays, the Holmes trial finally began on April 27 this year, and lasted until July 16. Braucher summoned 9,000 juror candidates from which to draw a dozen who would serve on the jury and several more as alternates.
He would later reject Holmes’ offer to plead guilty in exchange for not being given a death sentence. Brauchler spurned the plea offer, and then ultimately failed to secure the death penalty sentence because jurors were not unanimous in their opinion that Holmes should die. The perpetrator was eventually sentenced to 12 life sentences without the possibility of parole, and then an additional 3,318 years for the 140 attempted murder counts.
State Republican political leaders found Brauchler to be an attractive candidate because he had high name identification as an after effect of the Holmes case. Yet, he appeared to be a potential candidate with flaws, as well.
Brauchler would have been vulnerable for not securing the death penalty in the case, thus weakening him with the Republican base, and opening him to scrutiny for spending millions of taxpayer dollars on what was a clear-cut case. Some voters might have questioned his summoning a record 9,000 juror candidates to find 12, and then having to dismiss five jurors once chosen. One of the five had a direct relationship to a surviving Columbine shooting victim, one actually knew Holmes, and three talked about the case outside of the courtroom. Additionally, Brauchler would have been criticized for rejecting the plea agreement proposal, and then failing to achieve the point that caused him to object.
Thus, it was at least arguable that Brauchler was a less than ideal challenger, and there is little doubt that Sen. Bennet and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) would have exploited his flaws in a campaign.
Now the GOP is left with businessman Robert Blaha, state Sen. Tim Neville, El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, and four others. It is unlikely any of these individuals can drive this challenge race into the top tier, but Brauchler would have been rated a decided underdog, too.
At the beginning of the cycle, it appeared that Nevada and Colorado were the offensive Republican opportunities for this election cycle. The Nevada race is developing with Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3) challenging former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) in the campaign to succeed outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D). But, the Colorado effort has still not exited the starting blocks.
Colorado must be rated as a major recruitment failure for the Republicans, as is North Carolina for Democrats. The latter party has found no success in attracting a top-tier challenger for Sen. Richard Burr (R) in what could be a competitive race in a presidential swing state.