By Lynn Bartels
The Denver Post 20140403_114511_Colorado-GOP-gubernatorial-underdogs_200

Clockwise from top left: Greg Brophy, Steve House, Mike Kopp and Roni Bell Sylvester. (Denver Post file photos)


State Sen. Greg Brophy has racked up 25,781 miles on his Prius since he decided to run for governor.

Former Aetna official Steve House quit his job in December to campaign full time to be “hired” as Colorado’s top executive.

Former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp reached a milestone Wednesday: more likes on his campaign Facebook page than any other GOP gubernatorial contender.

And rancher Roni Bell Sylvester is proud of the letters she receives, including one from a fan calling her “an awesome, principled, indomitable warrior.”

But for all that, they’re the “insurgents” in a crowded Republican field of candidates that conventional wisdom says should be dominated by The Big Three: Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former Congressmen Tom Tancredo and Bob Beauprez, who ran for governor in 2010 and 2006, respectively.

The underdogs are working to convince Republicans that they’re the best choice to knock off Democrat John Hickenlooper in November. It’s a miles-and-messaging strategy aimed at reaching the party faithful in all corners of the state.

Greg Brophy, 47: At 5-foot-6, the Wray farmer often cracks a joke about his height when talking to voters, but he’s had a larger-than-life persona at the legislature.

Last year, Brophy helped lead Senate Republicans in a nationally followed fight against gun control, even allowing magazine manufacturer Magpul to park its logo-laden military-style vehicle in his highly visible parking spot at the state Capitol.

He fought renewable-energy standards for rural electric co-ops, and helped craft the message about the Democrats’ so-called “war on rural Colorado.”

He’s been criticized for receiving the endorsement of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a strident gun-rights group known for hardball election tactics.

“That’s like criticizing the Broncos for what happens in the stands,” Brophy said. “Hold me accountable for what I do and for my performance.”

An early pioneer in social media, he noted he didn’t scrub his Facebook or Twitter account before launching his campaign.

“I’m going to win it as Greg Brophy or not win it,” he said.

Steve House, 53: House said politicians are viewed negatively these days, and he has to admit he’s part of that crowd, although he’s chairman of the Adams County Republican Party.

House said he’s running on his business credentials.

“I don’t care about going to Washington. If you hire me, I’m going to fix it and then I’m going to go home,” he said.

Hickenlooper, too, ran on his business credentials when the restaurateur and brewpub founder ran for Denver mayor in 2003 and again when he ran for governor in 2010.

“I like John Hickenlooper,” House said “I didn’t vote for him because I’m a Republican, but I liked the concept of John Hickenlooper, the businessman. But I haven’t seen that part of his résumé play out in his time as governor.”

House believes he’s gaining momentum because he’s been willing to engage voters.

“They want to hear how you are going to actually do something different.”

Mike Kopp, 45: Kopp, director of corporate affairs for the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, said he knows all about running as the “insurgent candidate.”

When he ran for a state Senate seat in Jefferson County in 2006, the “GOP establishment” backed his primary opponent. One poll showed he was down 40 to 50 points in name recognition. But he narrowly won and proceeded to the general election.

“I met with (former U.S. Sen.) Bill Armstrong. He said, ‘The last year the environment was this bad for Republicans was in 1974 with Nixon. In fact, I think this may be worse, so good luck,’ ” Kopp recalled with a laugh.

That October, he got a call from a Republican helping lead the Senate election effort. “You can’t win,” he was told.

Kopp went on to win.

“You have to have a good message with good ideas,” he said. “If you have a good message, you’ll inspire a base of voters to not just vote for you, but to advocate for you and to give the shirts off their backs to the campaign, to knock on thousands of doors.”

That message: “Empower individuals, not government.”

When Kopp was the Senate minority leader, his wife became ill and died in 2011 after a three-year battle with cancer. He resigned his seat to take care of their four children.

During that ordeal, Kopp said, Hickenlooper was “gracious and caring,” but he still wants to unseat him this fall.

“You have to set personality aside for principle,” Kopp said. “I do not think our state has been going in a particularly hopeful direction.”

Roni Bell Sylvester, 68: The LaSalle rancher describes herself as a farm girl, cowgirl, homemaker, mom and wife. As the underdog of the underdogs, she admitted she has thought at times about getting out of the race.

“I can’t,” she said, “for it would deeply disappoint the solid salt-of-the-earth folks who are helping and eagerly await a win for them.”

Sylvester said she has a strong voter base on the Western Slope, where residents are upset with what is happening on the Front Range.

“We all feel like we are being gamed,” she said.

Sylvester tells the GOP groups she talks to that the “sizzle” issues such as civil unions, marijuana and abortion don’t matter if the state doesn’t get its water issues resolved.

“I’m getting their attention,” she said.

Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327, or

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