Littwin: Now that Tim Neville’s running for Senate, how could George Brauchler say no?

Mike Littwin
Fair and Unbalanced

So, now the action finally begins. Tim Neville is in, sending shudders throughout the GOP establishment. George Brauchler will presumably be next and, after that, it’s anyone’s guess. (Did I mention Robert Blaha? He’s the Colorado Springs businessman who lost to Doug Lamborn in a 2014 primary and who’s also in the race. Do I have to mention him again?)

We don’t know for sure about Brauchler, who says he will make his decision soon, but it seems like a safe assumption.

We’ll assume it because someone has to run, and those in the Republican establishment, on both the state and national levels, have determined that Brauchler is the best they can come up with in a bid to take Michael Bennet’s Senate seat.

We’ll assume it because since the end of the James Holmes case, Brauchler has done little to discourage the speculation, up to and including telling anyone who would listen that he has made a decision, which he will announce in early October.

And, finally, we’ll assume it because — and maybe this is just me — if you’re a district attorney contemplating a major jump to run for the U.S. Senate, you’d have to be pretty arrogant to set up an announcement to say you’re not running.

But whatever Brauchler has been thinking — and I don’t see how this could be an easy decision for him — I’m pretty sure he has no choice now.

At one point, state Republicans were desperate to find someone to run against Bennet. Now they’re desperate to find anyone to run — anyone who’s not Neville, that is. If the pressure on Brauchler was extreme before Neville got in the race, it has to be at the point of breaking several of the Geneva Conventions by now.

Neville, the state senator, is one of those Nevilles. One son is a state representative, another lobbies for the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. His sister-in-law is Julie Williams — yes, that Julie Williams, one of the Jefferson County school board members facing recall. It’s Colorado’s version of Duck Dynasty.

The pros will tell you that politicians of the Neville variety have real problems raising money, but Neville won’t have any problem attracting media attention. He may not have a serious chance to win, but he has to be taken seriously. I’m just saying that Republicans are sufficiently worried that they’ve even reached out to Frank McNulty as a fallback.

How could Brauchler say no?

It’s a strange thing, but in the brief time since Cory Gardner rearranged the political map in Colorado, Republicans have done everything they could do to put it back in play. There was, of course, the embarrassingly public Cynthia Coffman-Tom Tancredo attempted coup of their own guy, state GOP chairman Steve House. But that was just so much housekeeping.

The real problem was the embarrassingly public state Senate session, in which Republicans, knowing that none of the bills had any chance to become law, used their one-vote majority to remind everyone that the culture wars still raged in Colorado. Pick a topic, any explosive topic. You can start with abortion, birth control, medically unnecessary ultrasounds, fetal homicide, personhood and the anti-vaxxers’ Parent’s Bill of Rights. It’s the kind of nightmare agenda that John Boehner best understands.

In other words, they tore up the Gardner playbook — which called for every play to be at least faked up the middle — and went back to the model that had put the state GOP on a 10-year losing streak.

And Neville was in the middle of nearly every battle. And if Brauchler does decide to run, he’ll have Neville running right — yes, right — beside him, forcing Brauchler to debate all the issues that Gardner somehow managed to avoid. Personally, I can’t wait for another round of constitutional carry.

I can understand why Brauchler is tempted to get in. He’s young, he’s ambitious, he’s articulate, he’s being wooed. The polls look promising. Bennet is vulnerable. The national party is hot for this race. And Brauchler wouldn’t just be running against Bennet, he’d probably be running against Hillary Clinton, too. And although we don’t really know what kind of candidate Brauchler would be, he has every chance to be better than Ken Buck. What I mean is, he probably wouldn’t call for repealing the 17th Amendment.

But if you happen to overhear Republicans talking among themselves about this race, they’re far from confident. It’s a presidential year, meaning a higher Democratic turnout, and that’s without the possibility of a government shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood. And if Bennet barely beat Buck, the story doesn’t end there. Gardner, in the race that made him a GOP hero, won by not quite two points over Mark Udall. Brauchler is not exactly a blank slate — there are apparently right-wing radio interviews for the oppo-research guys to peruse ­— and, in any case, Bennet’s money machine will be working to define Brauchler before he can define himself.

If you ask me — and Brauchler definitely has not — the smart move for a young GOP politician in the making is to wait for 2018 and run for the open governor’s seat. But I’m thinking it’s too late for that. It has been explained to him, I’m sure, that somebody has to run against Bennet — someone— anyone — not named Neville.

Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for