Was the Colorado election stolen from grassroots activists by the party elites?
Put simply, no. Plenty has already been written about the organizational advantage that Ted Cruz has demonstrated in the race for national delegates — smartly, the Cruz campaign had been on the ground in Colorado for eight months, whereas the Trump campaign hired its first ground operative last week — but few have noted that the rules in Colorado yielded a broader win for the grassroots over the elites.
On Friday, April 8, I attended the Fifth Congressional District Assembly, to which I was elected as a delegate after I attended my neighborhood caucus in March. Typically, these assemblies are boring and predictable. But not this year. In a surprise nomination from the floor, 32-year old Calandra Vargas was nominated to challenge sitting congressman Doug Lamborn (who had been unanimously nominated for re-election). Taking full advantage of the opportunity, Vargas gave the speech of her life.
When delegate balloting was completed, it was revealed that Vargas had won 58 percent of the vote. Representative Doug Lamborn, by contrast, was left with only 35 percent. (The balance of the votes went to another floor nomination.) Had Lamborn received less than 30 percent, he would have been kept off the ballot completely, left with no other way to run for re-election.
Bottom line: The establishment almost lost its congressman because of Colorado’s grassroots-caucus process. Moreover, because of the delegate vote results, Vargas will be listed first on the ballot — a huge advantage for any candidate. If the party elite were in fact pulling the strings, an upset like this wouldn’t have been possible.
The following day at the state assembly — to which I had also been elected a delegate — we heard speeches from ten U.S. Senate candidates who chose to go through the caucus and assembly process. An additional four candidates for Senate chose to bypass the assembly, and petition directly on to the ballot. Of those who attended the state assembly, state senator Tim Neville was the clear favorite. Without question, Neville had the best delegate outreach, fundraising, and assembly presence. Walking in, the delegates were sure of one thing: Neville would make the ballot.
At least they were sure of that until El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn made his unexpectedly fiery nominating speech. Glenn hadn’t been successful in the traditional measures of candidate strength, such as fundraising. But, within Colorado’s assembly process, that didn’t matter. During his speech, Glenn received seven standing ovations — more than even Ted Cruz received later that day. Even better, Glenn received a remarkable 70 percent of the delegate votes, while Neville received just 18 percent. Because they were kept below the 30 percent threshold, Neville and the others were kept off the ballot. Glenn will now appear first on the US Senate ballot, above the four candidates who bypassed the assembly process.
Twice in two days in Colorado, grassroots Republican activists upended party expectations. None of us who were there were surprised by that. In Colorado, that’s just the way it works. Stealing? Not at all. That’s democracy.