Greg Lopez takes special election, but result of delegate convention may not mean much for primary

By BRIAN PORTER | The Rocky Mountain Voice

HUGO — Greg Lopez, who many years ago at age 27 became the mayor of Parker, was the last man standing here Thursday, as for the first time in 41 years Republicans’ Congressional Vacancy Committee met to nominate a single candidate in a special Congressional election.

Lopez will appear on the special election ballot in June with the candidate selected by the Democratic Party to decide who will serve the remainder of U.S. Rep. Ken Buck’s unexpired term.

“It was a bit of a surprise when our Congressman resigned,” said 4th District Chairman Tom Weins.

Buck gave a two-week notice and resigned effective March 22, citing his desire “not to be here anymore”. He has said allegations that the timing of the resignation were aimed at boxing in or out a candidate in the primary election are untrue. The 4th District will be without representation in Congress until the special election.

In a process of round-by-round elimination of candidates, Lopez, who only entered the special election, began with 12 delegates which grew each round until he was ultimately selected as the nominee in the sixth round, edging out Jerry Sonnenberg, 51-46.

Lopez had sought the party’s nomination in 2016 for U.S. Senate, and twice for governor.

“I’m not looking to run for office, I’m only looking to fill the final six months of this term,” Lopez told delegates before voting began. “Tonight is not about giving an individual an advantage over their opponent.”

In the heavily red leaning 4th District, what one poll termed “MAGA Country”, he likely will be the candidate elected to fill Buck’s unexpired term.

It’s a job interview

A field of nine candidates, seven of which are candidates for the primary election, contended for the nomination in the special election.

“This is more of a job interview,” Weins told delegates. “That’s what we’re trying to create. In the end, we’re trying to find someone with a majority vote.”

Weins began the night by explaining a process that has not been used in four decades. The first round of voting was non-elimination, followed by a 10% minimum of delegates needed in the second round in order to advance, and in all successive rounds one candidate was to be eliminated until ultimately one candidate had emerged with the majority of delegate votes. That happened at about 10:30 p.m. for a process that began with delegate arrival at 4 p.m.

Ninety-eight delegates attended the convention, with the winning delegate needing 50% of the vote plus one, for a majority. When Lopez eclipsed the 50-vote threshold in the sixth round, he had enough delegates to win.

But why Hugo?

Colorado’s 4th District includes about one third of the state’s land area, making selection of a site for the convention of delegates a challenge, Weins explains.

He turned to the most fair process possible, a map. Weins explained he reviewed the geography from the northeast to the southeast corners of the state, to the western extremes of the district in the north and the south, ultimately creating an ‘X’ to see where the middle of the district lies.

“As it turns out, Hugo is right in the center,” Weins said. “It was a very scientific process.”

A process of elimination

Through a six-hour process, delegates were confirmed and then lobbied by those candidates seeking to earn the nomination at the Lincoln County Fairground.

Candidates included Ted Harvey, Richard Holtorf, Greg Lopez, Mike Lynch, Scott Melby, Chris Phelen, Jerry Sonnenberg, Floyd Trujillo and Peter Yu.

Melby, Phelen, Trujillo and Yu were unable to draw the minimum 10% of delegates in the second round and were eliminated. Lynch was eliminated in the third round of voting. Holtorf was eliminated in the fourth round, and then began to help Lopez secure his victory.

“He is the man who should have this job today,” Holtorf said.

It was a 14-vote delegate count of which 11 voted in the fifth round for Lopez. That eliminated Harvey, who made the case to his delegates to support Sonnenberg, referring to Lopez as a “placeholder”, to which he was jeered by those supporting Lopez.

“I’m asking all of my supporters, every one of you, to support Jerry Sonnenberg,” Harvey said.

He had a 23-vote delegate count in the fifth round, but Sonnenberg only got 16 of them in the sixth and final round. One ballot was cast for an unqualified candidate in the sixth round, but the six Lopez collected was enough for the win.

Making their case

Candidates advancing into the third round of voting had two opportunities to make their case to delegates: a two-minute speech before the first round and then a six-minute speech after the second round.

Ted Harvey pledged his first bill would be Remain in Mexico policy, what he said would make the Trump-era policy law.

“Imagine what we can do if we have a solid conservative,” Harvey said.

Sonnenberg detailed his life growing up and raising a family on a Centennial farm in Sterling.

“Integrity and honesty is what I have always strived to maintain,” he said. “I’m not a showhorse, I’m a workhorse.”

Lopez, who was third in vote count after the second round, made his case as one who was not seeking election in the primary.

“I’m the last non-candidate standing,” he said. “I’m looking to be a strategic partner for whoever wins.”

Mike Lynch followed to point out the responsibility placed upon delegates.

“One hundred people are going to make the decision for 800,000 people,” he said. “I hope you look at the resume.”

Holtorf was the final candidate to speak. Like Lynch, he touted his military service as a credit to his candidacy. Holtorf criticized his opponents, considering the present state of Colorado.

“There are candidates here who have spoken loquaciously about all they have done, but during their time in office this state went from red to blue,” he said.

Holtorf also pointed to his campaign materials, and got a laugh from a few in the audience.

“This is the John Dutton [Yellowstone reference] campaign literature right here,” he said. “Look at it, we’ve got a lot in common.”

John Dutton, of course, serves as livestock commissioner and later was elected as governor of Montana in the TV show. Holtorf wants to go to Congress.

Why make Greg Lopez the nominee?

As the night drew into the wee hours in Hugo, Lopez continued to increase his vote count, and the sentiment in the room tended to demonstrate delegates favored him after their candidate.

His argument, that by nominating him to the ballot no primary candidate would gain an advantage, seemed to work.

He gained 10 votes after the first four candidates were eliminated. Lopez got all seven of the votes Lynch held after he was eliminated. He then got 11 of the 14 delegates who had voted for Holtorf in the fourth round, and when he scratched six delegates from Harvey’s loyalists, it resulted in the victory.

Key takeaways for candidates

The end result of the convention of delegates to select a nominee for the special election might not mean much. Two of the leading primary candidates did not participate in the special election nomination process and the winner is not participating in the primary election.

Trailing Lopez were Sonnenberg as the runner-up, Harvey in third place, followed by Holtorf and then Lynch. All except Lopez will contend for the party’s primary nomination.

Deborah Flora was not in the mix for the special election, and she has dominated straw polls in Douglas County, where the lion’s share of the district’s votes reside, making her a potential frontrunner in the primary.

Also, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert did not compete in the special election, and some candidates have shared internal polling finding her leading the race.

Sonnenberg finished as the top candidate seeking the party’s primary nomination in the special election nomination process, and it could be indicative of the district. He won a three-county straw poll in the far northeast area of the district and one in Weld County. He previously shared conclusions from internal polling that finds the primary to be a race between him and Boebert.

The most recent straw poll on Wednesday, the day before the special election meeting, found Flora finishing first and Boebert second in Douglas County. There’s still Harvey, Holtorf and Lynch to consider as potential victors. It is the North and Eastern Colorado version of the Belmont Stakes, where many horses could win and one will, with the prize being a nomination instead of a Triple Crown.