Baumgardner enters 2014 U.S. Senate race

The Colorado Statesman

State Sen. Randy Baumgardner, the mustachioed “Capitol cowboy” at the Gold Dome, has become the second high-profile Republican candidate vying to take on U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in 2014, adding to what could become a crowded primary field.

Baumgardner announced his candidacy on July 12 in Granby, sporting his familiar Western-style hat. The rural Hot Sulphur Springs rancher this month joined state Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs in announcing campaigns on the Republican ticket. Hill announced on July 8.

Baumgardner offers contrast to Hill’s young, charming persona. Unlike Hill, a 31-year-old who has served just one year in the Statehouse, Baumgardner is a veteran, serving since 2009. He followed the usual route, earning his stripes in the House before being elected to the Senate last year.

State Sen. Randy Baumgardner,
R-Hot Sulphur Springs

Baumgardner sat down with The Colorado Statesman in the cafeteria at the Capitol on Tuesday, explaining that a crowded Republican primary field does not scare him. Others considering joining the contest are Weld County District Attorney and former U.S. Senate nominee Ken Buck, former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez and state Rep. Amy Stephens of Monument.

“That’s the process,” remarked Baumgardner. “Anybody can get into the process that wants to, and then we’ll let the voters decide — if we decide to go through the caucus — we’ll let the voters decide who their candidate is going to be.”

But just how attractive Baumgardner is to the Republican Party may be a significant question. The party continues to struggle with moving away from wedge social issues and earning the confidence of Latino voters in an ever-evolving landscape.

Baumgardner voted against a measure in Colorado that provides in-state tuition to undocumented students, known as Colorado ASSET. His opponent, Hill, was one of only three Senate Republicans to vote in favor of the polarizing measure.

Meanwhile, front and center in Congress is immigration reform. The issue has for years been divisive within the GOP, with business interests calling for reform, while conservatives fight back against a pathway to citizenship.

Baumgardner unequivocally opposes amnesty. But he said he supports tying citizenship to education.

“That was part of the solution, is that if you’re going through college with the intent of being a citizen, then you will be a citizen and you can have a job,” he said.

But Baumgardner said he simply could not vote for Colorado ASSET, suggesting that the issue was not for the state to fix, but for Congress to repair.

“It’s not fair to charge somebody from Kansas or Wyoming, or another surrounding state, or anywhere in the United States that is a United States citizen, out-of-state rates and charge someone who is here that’s here illegally that’s not a citizen in-state rates,” affirmed Baumgardner.

“I told them I’d work with them and even go to Washington with them and try to get it changed,” he continued.

Still, Baumgardner takes issue with the so-called DREAM Act, a federal measure that would provide conditional permanent residency to immigrants who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors and lived in the country continuously for at least five years.

“I’m not in favor of [amnesty],” he said of the proposal, after fumbling for the word “amnesty.”

But Baumgardner also said, “If somebody was brought here when they were 1 or 2 years old, this is all they’ve ever known. To send them back to another country, we’re sending them to a foreign country, but I believe that if we’re going to do that it has to be changed on the federal level to where we can say, ‘Look, you’ve already went through our school system… and you want to go to college… so let’s first let you apply for citizenship — you don’t go to the first of the line… as you go to college you continue to work towards that citizenship, but not at an in-state rate because it’s not fair…’”

“If you’re going to go to school here and you want to become a citizen, then I’m all for you,” he continued later in the interview.

While the Grand County rancher believes that Congress should act on immigration, he does not believe it should be acting on issues that should remain in the hands of states, such as gun control, health care, and oil and gas regulation. He believes Udall is headed in the wrong direction by supporting federal legislation, such as limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines.

“We have someone that continually walks lockstep with the Obama Administration on guns, on health care,” he said. “Colorado is a different state. People are really concerned about their economy, how they’re going to make their mortgage, pay their bills, and with all the rules and regulations that the federal government mandates on the states… I believe that we should start looking at what’s best for Colorado and what is not best for Washington.”

Baumgardner said so-called “Obamacare” has been a disaster, pointing out that the administration recently delayed to 2015 a mandate requiring businesses with more than 50 workers to offer insurance to all full-time employees.

“Here you’ve got the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, whichever you want to call it, that now they’re not going to implement it until 2015 because… people are concerned,” stated Baumgardner.

But if he is to beat Udall, Baumgardner is going to have to hit the campaign trail hard, with fundraising being paramount to the contest. Udall raised $1.32 million for his re-election bid from April 1 through June 30, according to the Democrat’s latest campaign filings. He had nearly $3.44 million in cash for the election.

“That’s why we started early, is because we know we’ve got catching up to do, I do personally,” acknowledged Baumgardner. “The party… they don’t get involved as long as there’s a primary, so they help us as much as they can within the law…

“I think that it’s doable,” he continued. “The numbers are more so in our favor now than [Udall’s].”

Democrats attack

But just as early as Baumgardner announced for the U.S. Senate seat, so have Democrats in fighting his candidacy. Democratic Party leaders immediately pointed to Baumgardner’s past, having housed a sex offender at his ranch last year.

“Even though they’re desperate and in disarray, the Republican Party should be embarrassed by Randy Baumgardner’s candidacy,” declared Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio. “Colorado doesn’t need Randy Baumgardner in the State Senate, let alone the United States Senate.”

Baumgardner told The Statesman last year that he believed in giving the sex offender an opportunity: “In this country, when someone has paid their debt to society, they can choose to live anywhere…” he said at the time. “That being said, I had a tremendous amount of support for trying to help someone and give them a second chance.”

Even beyond the personal controversy, Palacio attacked Baumgardner on his voting record, having supported so-called personhood — which many say would ban abortion — and harsh immigration laws.

“After months of searching, Republicans in Colorado are once again promoting a severely conservative candidate far outside of Colorado’s mainstream, who doesn’t reflect the views of independent-minded Coloradans,” said Palacio.

Peter@coloradostatesman.com