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Colorado GOP Squabbles Complicate Bennet Challenge

Republicans hope to target Bennet in Colorado in 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A war between the Colorado Republican Party's top brass is raising questions about whether the party can recruit a top-tier challenger needed to unseat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in the state's must-win U.S. Senate seat.  

State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, along with former Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., tried to oust state Republican Party Chairman Steve House, according to multiple local reports. The two reportedly threatened to reveal — what House said were false claims — that he cheated on his wife if he didn't step down.  

Coffman was often mentioned as a possible Bennet challenger, especially after her husband, Colorado GOP Rep. Mike Coffman, decided against running earlier this month. The congressman was courted by both local and national Republicans , who viewed him as their best shot at defeating Bennet next fall.  

But Cynthia Coffman's involvement in the state party dust-up likely takes her off the table as Republicans search for a challenger. And she's the second potential recruit to receive negative headlines in the past few weeks.  

Earlier this month, state Sen. Ellen Roberts, took a beating from both the left and the right when she appeared to change her position on abortion rights. Roberts told a local conservative radio show host on June 3 she was against abortion rights. But comments she made on the state Senate floor back in 2011 surfaced, in which Roberts called herself a "pro-choice Republican."  

Democrats — who are looking to hold on to Bennet's seat as they attempt to pick up five seats to ensure a Senate majority — are happy to sit and watch the drama play out.  

"It’s clear that the Republican Party in Colorado is a ridiculous mess, and the GOP’s chances of winning this seat get worse by the day," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky said in a statement.  

House told The Associated Press that infighting within the party isn't new.  

"Unfortunately, there are some who are more concerned with their own personal gain than doing what is best for our Party as a whole," House told The Associated Press. "These are the same exact people who fought against past chairmen, and they are going to try to take out the next chair as well."  

Cynthia Coffman did not immediately return a call seeking a response to House's allegations.  

Still, national Republican operatives say they are optimistic they can find a candidate to challenge Bennet in 2016.  

They point to now-GOP Sen. Cory Gardner's late entrance into the contest in 2014 as a sign they have time to find a top-tier recruit.  

Potential candidates include:

  • District Attorney George Brauchler, who is currently prosecuting the high-profile trial of the gunman who killed 12 and injured dozens of others in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in 2012.
  • State Sen. Owen Hill, a Republican who dropped out of the Senate race in 2014 when Gardner got in.
  • Businessman Robert Blaha, who lost a primary to GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn in Colorado's 5th District in 2012.

Some national Republican operatives say it's better this is happening now than next year when it would be harder to find a recruit without so much baggage. And that they're better off with the Coffmans out of the picture.  

"The Coffmans, both Cynthia and Congressman Coffman, came with a lot of unknowns and risks, and I think that was one of the reasons why it wasn’t a bad thing that they both decided not to run for Senate," said one national Republican operative. "I think behind the scenes this is sort of a scary public display of what the rumors had been; it’s pretty troubling that the attorney general is going around threatening people."  

The Colorado Senate contest is rated a Leans Democratic contest by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call.  

Related: What Happens If Coffman Says No Mike Coffman Rules Out Colorado Senate Bid Which Coffman Runs for Colorado Senate in 2016? Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.