DENVER Republican voters in Colorado will decide on Tuesday which of four candidates on a primary ballot will challenge Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper in November, who all the hopefuls say is a weak executive.
Among those vying for a chance to topple the governor are two former congressmen, Tom Tancredo and Bob Beauprez, both of whom have lost previous gubernatorial races.
Beauprez lost when he was the Republican nominee in 2006, and Tancredo was defeated when he ran on a third-party ticket in 2010. Tancredo is seen as a maverick within Republican circles, while Beauprez is considered the establishment candidate.
The other two candidates are former state lawmaker Mike Kopp and current secretary of state Scott Gessler.
Kopp has won the endorsement of two of the state's last three Republican senators, while Gessler has touted the statewide victory he won as secretary of state.
The main issue all the Republican contenders agree on is that Hickenlooper, a former beer magnate, showed a lack of leadership when he signed into law a package of gun-control bills passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature last year.
Hickenlooper recently apologized to the state's county sheriffs for approving one of the most controversial measures, a bill that limited ammunition magazines to 15 rounds.
Many of Colorado's 64 sheriffs opposed the limit, saying it was unenforceable.
His opponents were quick to pounce on the apology.
"This is a governor without leadership or principle," Beauprez said in a statement. "He decides to restrict the rights of Coloradans and months later apologizes for not doing his homework."
Tancredo relishes his outsider role, endorsing the legalization of recreational marijuana that Colorado voters approved in 2012.
Tancredo became a national political figure while in Congress over his outspoken opposition to illegal immigration.
He said in an interview he is the only candidate who can beat Hickenlooper because he polls well among unaffiliated voters, and that his comments on immigration have been misinterpreted.
"I believe legal immigration is beneficial as long as it's in lockstep with assimilation," he said.
Whoever secures the Republican nod has an uphill battle against Hickenlooper, who has amassed a sizable war chest. His campaign said on Tuesday it has spent $1.4 million to buy TV ads to run in the fall.
A spokesman said the governor would not comment on the race until his opponent is selected.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Beech)