On June 18, President Donald Trump announced his 2020 re-election bid in Orlando, Florida, and Colorado was watching.
Viewing parties took place across the state, and at one at the Tavern Platt Park in south Denver, Steve Barlock, who helped lead the Trump campaign in the Mile High City and made an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2018, was cheered by the sight of more than a hundred true believers devoted to making sure The Donald scores a second term. But he also saw something else: a path to victory for Trump in the state.
"We look at Colorado coming up in the next presidential election as very winnable," Barlock says.
Barlock is a Trump fan, to put it mildly, and his loyalty has been rewarded. Prior to the president's arrival in Colorado to deliver the commencement address at the Air Force Academy's graduation ceremony late last month, Barlock received an invite from the White House to not only attend, but also to be part of the receiving line at Peterson Air Force Base when Air Force One landed. The meet-and-greet was emotional for him, in part because he brought along a letter written to Trump by his dad, who passed away earlier in May.
"It meant a lot for the president to recognize me and shake my hand and say my father's name and take the letter," Barlock recalls. "And as he was going to the Air Force Academy, a young gentleman who was there with his immigrant father yelled, 'He's got the letter in his hand! He's reading the letter!' It was a tear-jerky moment, and I was very glad to have that happen."
Since then, Barlock has been working with a gaggle of other pro-Trump operatives to start laying the foundation for the re-election attempt in Colorado. Essentially, the band is getting back together: In addition to Barlock, the group includes such 2016 crew members as political director Jefferson Thomas, senior adviser Patrick Davis and chairman Robert Blaha. But this time around, they're not fighting the so-called Never Trumpers who made their efforts more difficult in 2016, Barlock says.
The lack of current anti-Trump sentiment in the Colorado Republican Party should make a big difference, Barlock believes, since no energy will have to be expended dealing with internal strife. "A little more unity and a little more cooperation gives us the ability to turn the tide here," he says.
On the surface, doing so would seem to be a Herculean task. After all, Democrats took every major statewide office in the 2018 election, plus control of the Colorado Legislature. But Barlock expects to see a quick pivot.
"We are an experimental state, and sometimes the experiment doesn't work," he contends. "[Governor] Jared Polis and his gang have ramrodded a socialist agenda through down at the Capitol, and his policies are going to have the effect of turning the state back to purple" — a blend of Democratic blue and Republican red that would give Trump a fighting chance.
According to Barlock's math, Trump doesn't have that much ground to make up. True, he received around 136,000 fewer votes in Colorado than did his 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. But thanks to significant support for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who collected 5.18 percent of the vote, Clinton fell shy of 50 percent, finishing with 48.16 percent. Moreover, had all of Johnson's backers opted for Trump, who topped out at 43.25 percent, he would have won.
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Then there's the matter of comparisons with other states. Barlock points out that Clinton got around the same percentage of votes in Pennsylvania (47.46 percent) and Florida (47.82 percent) as she did in Colorado, but the Democratic candidate for president lost in both places. "That could happen here, too," he says.
To make sure it does, the GOP nationally and within Colorado has a wide-ranging strategy, according to Barlock: "We're looking forward to the placement of a minimum of seven offices around the state, and we have a very large database — the largest ever right now — that is in sync with what we're doing. It has good and bad in it, looking at why we won areas and why we lost areas, areas we need to concentrate on, areas we're going to go after, areas they may not expect us to go after, and areas we're going to fight for, hard."
This approach won't be cheap, but "we're going to fundraise like never before," he promises — and he thinks a backlash against Colorado's swing to the left will benefit down-ticket candidates as well. Republican Senator Cory Gardner "is basically running against a bunch of socialists," Barlock argues, "and I think the Congressional seats we lost will be put in play because of quality candidates and quality funding and the party's rift with the socialist Democratic movement that played so much of a role in electing Polis. Look at the challenge to Diana DeGette [by former Colorado Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran]. I think there will be a lot of incumbents that will have challengers in the Democratic Party, and that could give us an opportunity to compete in areas that probably weren't as competitive before, such as Ed Perlmutter's spot. I see chaos on the Democratic side, which is nice."
In contrast, he senses no opposition among Colorado Republicans to four more years of the current chief executive. "It's really the party of Trump now," Barlock concludes.