GOP Chair Williams Peters Lundberg

Former state Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, left; former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters; and former state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud

The race to run the Colorado Republican Party is getting crowded.

Three former elected officials on Friday announced they're running for state GOP chair, nearly doubling the number of candidates campaigning for the top party position just three weeks before Republicans meet to elect officers to two-year terms.

Throwing their hats in the ring are former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, former state Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs and former state Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud. All three had earlier said they were considering bids for state chair.

They join State Board of Education member Stephen Varela, a former Democrat who lost a legislative race in Pueblo in November before winning a vacancy appointment last month to his current post; Casper Stockham, a political consultant who ran four unsuccessful campaigns in three U.S. House districts in the last decade; Erik Aadland, who lost a run for Congress last year; and Aaron Wood, founder of the Douglas County-based Freedom Fathers group, which describes itself as a defender of conservative Christian values.

Incumbent Republican state chair Kristi Burton Brown announced in December that she wouldn't seek a second term running the party.

The GOP's upcoming leadership election — set for March 11 at a hotel in Loveland — comes as state Republicans grapple with the party's direction on the heels of losing ground in a third consecutive general election. Last fall, Democrats swept every statewide race and won Colorado's new congressional seat on top of gaining historic majorities in the General Assembly, leaving state Republicans in their weakest position in nearly a century.

Both of the state's major political parties are conducting their biennial reorganizations this month and next, with county parties concluding elections for officers and state central committee members this week. State Democrats are slated to elect a new chair on April 1 to replace former state Sen. Morgan Carroll, who isn't seeking a fourth term.

While the state's Democrats have had just two party chairs over the last dozen years, Colorado Republicans last reelected a chair to a second term in 2013 and next month are preparing to pick their sixth state chair in as many terms.

The three newly announced state GOP chair candidates all lost the last time they ran for office — Peters in the 2022 primary for secretary of state, Williams in a failed bid last summer to unseat U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in the heavily Republican 5th Congressional District, and in 2018, when Lundberg didn't make the primary ballot for state treasurer at the GOP state assembly.

Peters faces a trial this summer in Grand Junction on felony charges related to allegations she helped breach her county's secure voting equipment in an attempt to prove that Colorado elections are rigged. Peters maintains she did nothing illegal, contending instead that the charges are politically motivated.

Peters confirmed in an email that she's in the race for state chair. Late last year, she told Colorado Politics that she would run if "the people" asked her to.

"We are not a blue state. We're not even a purple state. We are a red state," Peters said at a raucous rally in the parking lot of a western wear retailer on Nov. 30 across the street from state GOP headquarters in Greenwood Village, where speaker after speaker blamed Burton Brown and party insiders for the Republicans' shellacking in the recent election.

"Our country's being taken away from us," Peters told the crowd, which included Stockham, Aadland and Wood, who organized the rally.

"It starts with the treachery of the GOP in our state," Peters said. "You know, there's these speakers that are going to talk about the infractions of Kristi Burton Brown, the inactivity of Kristi Burton Brown, to stand up and inform the chairs in every county on how to come against the election fraud."

Peters added that one reason GOP nominees lost in Colorado was because Burton Brown told them not to spread unfounded claims that Colorado's elections are rigged.

The anger expressed at the rally toward the party's establishment was palpable. A former Adams County GOP chair called party leaders "whores," "liars" and "asswipes."

On Friday, Williams swung hard at Burton Brown in an email to supporters, calling the state GOP's intervention in last week's El Paso County Republican leadership election "the last straw," sealing his decision to run for state chair.

County GOP chair Vickie Tonkins won reelection to a third term running the local party at a Feb. 11 meeting in Colorado Springs that was supervised by neutral outsiders designated by the state party in response to complaints Tonkins was stacking the deck for her favored candidates.

At the same meeting, Williams was the top vote-getter in an election for county bonus members to the state Republicans' central committee, which will vote in next month's state party leadership election.

"The failed establishment strategies of the past have robbed our party of success and handed radical Democrats super majorities in state government," Williams said in the email announcing his candidacy. "From the corrupt insider consultant class to failed party officials playing fast and loose with the rules that benefit one wing of our party over another, it’s no wonder why we can’t dig ourselves out of the hole we find ourselves in."

Describing himself as "a wartime fighter with experience" and a "conservative champion," Williams vowed to protect the caucus and assembly process from "failed establishment politicians" who want to change how candidates make the ballot in Colorado.

"We need a principled proven leader who will advance our conservative Republican values and platform instead of propping up insider politicians who only pay lip service to our beliefs but then work with Democrats to do the opposite once elected when they think no one is looking," Williams said, adding, "We need a fair and even-handed leader who will bring unity on our fundamental principles and won’t settle scores or play favorites. We have a big-tent, and everyone should have a seat at the table with a voice and a vote."

Lundberg sounded similar, though less aggressive notes in an interview with Colorado Politics on Friday.

"The bottom line is, I believe my experience and my values align quite well with what we need for the party, and I’m willing to serve as chair, but I will also acknowledge here are lots of good people in the race" he said. "At the bare minimum, I look forward to a good, healthy debate and discussion as we find the right person for the job."

In addition to "defending and fortifying the caucus system," Lundberg said he wants the party to add its weight to a court challenge against the state's semi-open primary system, which lets unaffiliated voter cast ballots in either major party's primaries.

Lundberg was among a group of Republicans who filed a lawsuit against the voter-approved primary system in federal court last year, arguing it unconstitutionally restricts the GOP's right to pick its nominees. A judge dismissed the lawsuit, noting that the state party didn't join it.

"The party was a little too timid, and we need to be more aggressive and bold in that area," Lundberg said.

As far as the party's broader approach to regaining a competitive position in state politics, Lundberg said Colorado Republicans need to return to their roots.

"What we ought to be doing is refocusing on the Republican principles of good government — normal everyday citizens wanting to live their lives as they see best without government interference — and stop letting other people define us," he said. "We need to put some changes in place to stop losing not just elections but losing Republican membership and losing a vision as to what good government looks like for Colorado."