DENVER – Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jon Keyser understands that politics is a dog-eat-dog world.
The 34-year-old former state representative from Morrison – who grew up in the Durango area, is a decorated combat veteran and an attorney – has faced unflattering headlines, some of which were unexpected and seemingly out of his control.
“Something I learned early on in my military career is you go out with your plan, you have a great plan, and that plan is as good as it is until something changes,” Keyser said.
One thing that hasn’t changed for Keyser is his platform, which focuses heavily on foreign affairs and military policy.
But his race for the nod to take on incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet turned sideways in April when the Secretary of State’s Office determined that the signatures he submitted to petition onto the June 28 primary ballot were insufficient.
News reports later revealed that some signatures may have been forged, culminating with allegations that one of the signatures was that of a dead person.
Prosecutors earlier this month charged the woman accused of forging the signatures.
Keyser said he didn’t know about the alleged fraud. The petition-gatherer was working for a firm hired by a political and public affairs company working for the campaign.
But in the immediate days following the reports, Keyser was quiet. One Denver television reporter attended a forum Keyser participated in to ask him about the potentially fraudulent signatures. The reporter had previously tried to catch Keyser at his home.
Keyser asked the reporter if he had been “creeping around my house.” And then he asked, “Did you get to meet my dog? He’s bigger than you are. He’s huge ... Very protective.”
It was taken as a veiled threat in a video that went viral and had Democrats framing the exchange as a “meltdown.”
Observers believe the situation could have been quelled earlier had Keyser quickly answered questions. After all, he wasn’t the one collecting allegedly fraudulent signatures.
Beyond the sensationalism, Keyser also found himself fighting simply to make the ballot.
After the Secretary of State’s Office deemed the petitions insufficient, Keyser took the case to court, where he won, earning a spot on the ballot.
But it wasn’t over. A lawsuit, in which the plantiff’s attorney was Mark Grueskin, a high-profile Denver lawyer who often represents Democrats, was filed to block his votes from being counted, pointing to the allegations of fraud. Keyser won that case also, securing his place on the ballot with four other candidates.
Some might have buckled under the pressure. But not Keyser. He drew upon his military training – which earned him the Bronze Star as a combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and kept fighting.
“When you look at what Democrats have done ... they’ve done everything they can to try to trip us up ... to try and hurt my campaign, but the fact of the matter is I’m the one who is going to beat Michael Bennet, and they know that,” Keyser said.
Those who know him the best say they’re not surprised by Keyser’s run.
“Jon’s well-balanced general character, coupled with his very quick and keen mind, seemingly limitless drive and energy, demonstrated good judgment, academic accomplishments, and upbringing in Colorado, cause me to not be surprised at his pursuit,” said retired Col. Sean Sullivan, who was in charge of a team that Keyser was a part of in Iraq in 2006.
Added Matt Kuta, who Keyser taught to sky-dive at the Air Force Academy, “If anyone can get anything done, particularly in the realm of national security ... it’s going to be Jon.”