DENVER - In an interview with 9NEWS Tuesday, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler confirmed he is dropping his bid for reelection and running for Colorado governor instead.
"I will be running for governor. I think Colorado's headed in the wrong direction," Gessler said.
The date for Gessler's announcement was chosen some time ago, though it's turned out to be poor timing. It comes as rescue and recovery operations are still underway in Colorado's unprecedented flooding disaster.
Gessler ultimately decided not to scrap his planned announcement.
In May, Gessler formed a campaign for governor, hoping to challenge incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper, but said he was not yet prepared to abandon the possibility of campaigning for another term as Secretary of State.
Now, he's all-in.
"He's the TBD governor," Gessler said, in reference to Hickenlooper's choice to avoid a permanent decision about death penalty policy in Colorado. "On other issues, he's followed a liberal legislature."
In order to square off with Hickenlooper, Gessler needs to emerge from a pack of GOP rivals that includes former Congressman Tom Tancredo and Greg Brophy, a state senator from Wray.
"I'm the only one who's actually won a statewide campaign, beating a Democratic incumbent," Gessler said. "I think I can beat a Democrat incumbent again."
Gessler will deliver a campaign kickoff speech Tuesday evening at the Cable Center in Denver, in which he will tout his record in office as secretary of state.
"Within the Republican party, people know who I am," said Gessler. "They know what I've done and they like what I've done."
Democrats have not liked what Gessler's done, accusing him of overreaching in his role as chief elections officer to suppress minority turnout.
They were particularly frustrated by Gessler's effort to purge voter rolls of non-citizens in which legal voters were contacted about their status.
Gessler defends his actions, saying that his goal has been to vigorously protect against voter fraud.
When asked why he went ahead with the campaign event in the midst of the ongoing flood disaster, Gessler said that he did scrap plans to hold his event in Fort Collins, which is dealing with the effects of the flood.
"Obviously, we've postponed that," Gessler said.
Political observers question the wisdom of going ahead with a campaign launch at this time, partly due to the fact that the public's attention is not on politics, and partly due to the optics of campaigning right now.
"It's weird," 9NEWS political expert Floyd Ciruli said. "You're going to launch a campaign to attack a person who's helping the state recover."
Ciruli says large-scale disasters provide a chance for sitting governors to shine. The widespread images of Hickenlooper flying over the flood zone and walking on crutches since he's recovering from hip surgery have been no exception.
Speaking with 9NEWS, Gessler defended his decision to go ahead with a campaign kickoff now.
"The governor kicked his [campaign] off in middle of forest fires," Gessler, referring to the timing of Hickenlooper's campaign filing in mid-August, said. "I'm thankful that it looks as though the incoming flooding has subsided, and we're now in more the recovery and rebuilding mode."
Gessler went on to say that he wants to get the announcement done so he can begin debating issues in the campaign.
One issue he isn't campaigning on right now is the flood itself.
"I think the governor has certainly not caused any harm. He's done fine. The issue is going to be how to we rebuild going forward," Gessler said. "I'm not going to criticize him during this time at all."
Gessler said he will have plenty of criticism for Governor Hickenlooper's policies, but he won't criticize his handling of the floods.
(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)