- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

DENVER (AP) - The four-way Republican race to challenge Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in November will be narrowed down to one nominee Tuesday as the GOP seeks to win the state’s highest office for the first time since 2006.

While no candidate has emerged as a front-runner, Democrats have made clear whom they want Hickenlooper to face: Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a staunch opponent of illegal immigration who broke from the GOP to run - and lose - against Hickenlooper in 2010 as the Constitution Party candidate.

The other GOP candidates are former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former Republican state Sen. Mike Kopp. They are trying to convince primary voters that they have a better chance in the general election than Tancredo.

In a sign that Democrats see the immigration hard-liner as easiest to beat, ads airing this month criticize Tancredo and Beauprez, but in a way that appears to boost Tancredo’s chances with Republican voters. The ad slams Tancredo for opposing President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and notes the Republican labeled the program “crony capitalism” - which could actually play well with GOP primary voters.

Another ad against Beauprez, who is seen by many Republicans as a more formidable candidate than Tancredo, accuses him of supporting earmarks and favoring the insurance mandate that is the backbone of the health law.

Both ads come from Protect Colorado Values, whose director has worked at a Democratic political firm.

The ads indicate that Democrats may believe a Beauprez-Hickenlooper matchup would be a lot tighter than initially thought, said Bob Loevy, a retired professor of political science at Colorado College.

“I think if Beauprez wins tomorrow, a race that I thought would be a slam dunk for Democrats and could not be reversed might be winnable for the Republicans,” Loevy said.

But like Tancredo, Beauprez also has baggage. Many expected Beauprez to cruise into office in 2006 as the successor to then-Republican Gov. Bill Owens. Instead, Beauprez lost easily to Democrat Bill Ritter. Since then, Beauprez has occasionally made incendiary comments about the Obama administration, including a 2013 accusation that the Muslim Brotherhood was an influence.

Beauprez said, “2006 wasn’t much fun. But 2014 is a very different environment.”

Republicans hope to capitalize on what they see as Hickenlooper’s waning popularity after he signed gun-control laws last year and increased renewable energy standards on rural electricity cooperatives.

Gessler said he thinks backing for Hickenlooper is not as strong as it may seem.

“I think his support is a mile wide and an inch deep,” he said.

Kopp, who was GOP leader in the state Senate, said Republicans can win in November if they push “a narrative about empowering the individual and not their government.”

A factor that may play in Republicans’ favor is a historical trend when it comes to midterms during the sixth year of a presidency, Loevy said. Those elections tend to favor the party that doesn’t control the presidency, the retired professor said.

“Any acceptable candidate who is not in the presidency’s party is going to get a lot of votes,” Loevy said.

While that trend has proven true on a federal level, it remains to be seen whether it can translate to state races, said Kyle Saunders, an associate professor of political science at Colorado State University.

He also notes that no matter who wins the Republican nomination, they will have to contend with Hickenlooper’s fundraising prowess. He’s raised nearly $3 million for his re-election bid, and he still has about $1 million of it on hand.

“He’s got a million dollars in dry powder sitting there waiting to be shot,” Saunders said.

For the Republicans, Tancredo has raised the most money, with $792,778, followed by Gessler, with $534,812. Beauprez has raised $306,499 and loaned himself about $500,000. Kopp has raised $266,347.

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Follow Ivan Moreno on Twitter: https://twitter.com/IvanJourno

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