- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

DENVER (AP) - A crowded slate of Colorado Republicans launched their effort to defeat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet with a surprising tone of optimism in their first and last forum before meeting voters.

Seven candidates who met for a forum at the University of Denver on Thursday laid out a common theme: We may not be well-known, but we can win.

“I think we can do it. Hell yes, we can do it,” retired Air Force computer programmer Charlie Ehler said to cheers from the crowd of about 100.

Not everyone believes the GOP has a shot against Bennet, who is seeking a second term. That’s because none of the GOP candidates has held federal office before, and none has anywhere close to Bennet’s bankroll. Three additional candidates have filed candidacy paperwork with federal elections authorities, none with statewide name recognition.

The seven candidates at Thursday’s forum angled for support in Colorado’s March 1 GOP caucuses.

“I have the record,” said Republican state Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton, the only current state legislator in the contest. (Jon Keyser was in the state House, but he resigned to challenge Bennet).

Also on the stage Thursday night were former Aurora city Councilman Ryan Frazier, Robert Blaha, Charlie Ehler, Darryl Glenn and Peg Littleton.

All laid out common conservative themes in the two-hour forum. The candidates talked about the need to cut government spending, shore up national defense and push for undoing the policies of President Barack Obama.

Some candidates even joked about how similar they are. Sitting in chairs arranged in a semicircle, the candidates nodded often when others were talking.

After former state Board of Education member Peg Littleton talked about opposing Common Core education standards, Glenn joked, “If anybody in here supports Common Core they need to get off the stage right now.”

Republican caucus-goers won’t choose Senate candidates, but they’ll start picking delegates to the state GOP convention in April.

That’s where Republicans will choose three Senate candidates guaranteed to make a June primary. Republicans outside the top three can still appear on primary ballots, but they will have to turn in several thousand petition signatures.

Bennet faces no primary opposition for his re-election bid.

___

Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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