A reason to cheer in Colorado's Senate race?

Until now, there hasn’t been much to pique interest or curiosity in Colorado’s 2016 Senate race. Incumbent Michael Bennet might have the same kind of vulnerabilities as the hapless Mark Udall did in 2014, but no one of Cory Gardner’s stature has emerged to challenge for the seat. A handful of Republicans have declared for the race, but have not captured the imagination of voters — and in a cycle where Republicans need every break they can get to retain the majority, a Bennet re-election looks like it could be a lost opportunity.

However, a new possibility may emerge, one that could capture the moment in terms of national-security focus, and perhaps provide the GOP a rally point in the state. Ernest Luning at the Colorado Statesman reports that state representative Jon Keyser, a major in the Air Force reserve and a combat veteran in Iraq and Afghanistan, may declare his candidacy after the first of the year:

Republicans have struggled to find a candidate of stature to take on Bennet, considered the lone vulnerable Democratic senator in next year’s election. Pointing to recent polling they say puts Bennet in a worse position than Democrat Mark Udall was at the same time in the election cycle — U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner went on to unseat Udall by 2 points in a Republican wave year — top GOP strategists are privately crowing that Keyser brings national security credibility and star power to a race that has so far mostly been lacking it. …

A source in the Washington foreign policy community had high praise for Keyser after meeting him on the trip, saying he was “blown away” by the Colorado Republican. “He schooled them on the ground intel of the region,” the source continued, saying Keyser has “absolute and complete foreign policy chops.”

What’s more, Keyser’s background as a ground combat veteran in the war on terror — he was awarded a Bronze star and served in Iraq and Afghanistan — could shine in a race Republicans close to Keyser say will almost certainly be dominated by questions of national security, according to recent polling cited by his backers.

“I have first-hand experience on national security matters on things like Iran and Afghanistan,” Keyser said. “I’m afraid it’s almost impossible to defeat an enemy some people in Washington don’t even acknowledge exists. The fact is, we’re in a global war against Islamic extremism. I’ve learned that dangerous times require serious leaders.”

As it so happens, I met and spoke with Jon Keyser a couple of times while doing research for my book GOING RED (Crown Forum, April 2016) this summer. He represents a large part of Jefferson County, the county just west of Denver that is considered a bellwether in state elections. Keyser knows the district well, and has had success in working with a shifting electorate in Jeffco.

Keyser could well become the cycle’s Tom Cotton if he decides to run, and his track record could help nationalize the Senate race for Colorado Republicans. He’s serving his first term in the state legislature, which might otherwise be an issue of experience, but his extensive service in the military combined with the rise in focus on national security in this election may make him the right man at the right time. He’s poised, smart, not afraid to speak out, but has a good sense of himself and (as one would expect) the discipline to run a smart campaign. This would be a test for a relatively inexperienced candidate, but Keyser clearly seemed destined for bigger things in our conversations.

Luning expects Keyser to make an announcement one way or the other by the first of the year. Keyser just might make the Colorado Senate race an interesting contest to watch.

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