Republican Party Split Hits Congress, States And Local Parties As the GOP split reverberates across the U.S., the head of one Colorado county Republican Party insinuates that COVID-19 is a hoax, calls on militia group for security and faces calls to resign.

GOP Divide Not Just A D.C. Drama: Post-Trump Reckoning Splits Colorado County

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One of the states where the Republican Party is considering its future is Colorado - used to be a red state, then a swing state and lately looks like a blue state. Now Republicans in one county face an election for a new party chair. From Colorado Public Radio, Bente Birkeland has more.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: El Paso County sits about an hour south of Denver and has long been a bastion of conservative politics. The main population center, Colorado Springs, is the only city in the state Donald Trump visited while president.


DONALD TRUMP: And I'm thrilled to be back in Colorado Springs. I've spent a lot of time here...

BIRKELAND: It's also a place where differences over the future direction of the party are stark.

ELI BREMMER: Republicans are rightfully very upset and frustrated with the recent election. And some of them are dealing with it very appropriately, and some of them are dealing with it inappropriately.

BIRKELAND: That's Eli Bremmer. He's the former chair of the El Paso County Republican Party. The latest controversy erupted over an upcoming meeting to select the next county chair. A tentative agenda listed a local militia group as providing security. Bremmer says he's worried the meeting won't be safe.

BREMMER: Obviously, there's some underlying tensions here between sort of the radical fringe elements and sort of the more mainstream, common-sense conservative, liberty-minded Republicans.

BIRKELAND: Bremmer plans to vote against current chair Vickie Tonkins, who is running for re-election. Tonkins did not return a request for comment, but told a different media outlet the security she arranged is subject to change. The infighting predates Trump's defeat. Last spring, 17 Republican elected officials said Tonkins should consider stepping down. That was after she suggested on the official county GOP Facebook page that COVID-19 may be a hoax. Tonkins later said she was only trying to start a discussion. Lois Landgraf was a state lawmaker at the time.

LOIS LANDGRAF: All it required was an apology. But that didn't happen.

BIRKELAND: But Tonkins has supporters. Many argue the moves to oust her are driven by racism. Tonkins is Black. On a local talk radio show, the treasurer she appointed, John Pitchford, raised his concerns.


JOHN PITCHFORD: They have a problem with the fact that we have a Black woman as our chair of the GOP.

BIRKELAND: Her detractors vehemently deny that race has anything to do with it. For longtime Republican Party volunteer Karl Schneider, these public conflicts only hurt the party.

KARL SCHNEIDER: Republicans have been leaving the party because we have the perception that we are unprofessional.

BIRKELAND: Schneider says that's why he's running as county vice chair. He spent more than two decades as a U.S. Army Special Forces officer and says he wants to use his leadership skills to help restore calm.

SCHNEIDER: Because there are a lot of people who've gone and become unaffiliated that are Republican and are conservative in their views - and we want to bring those people back.

BIRKELAND: But there's a lot of work ahead. And just the week after the January 6 riot, nearly 5,000 Colorado Republicans left the party.

For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland in Colorado.


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