The GOP? In Boulder?

A mainstream Republican starts what could be a strong run to replace David Skaggs in Congress.

Republicans in the Second Congressional District have ground a dozen different can-didates into fodder for David Skaggs and Tim Wirth. Next year, though, the name of the Democrat running for that seat will change, along with one other thing: The GOP may nominate somebody who has a chance to win.

At the very least, it looks as though the Republican primary for the seat now held by Skaggs (who is running for the U.S. Senate) will be a clear-cut race between one abortion-rights and one anti-abortion candidate. In years past, the religious right's candidate has won the nomination with less than a majority because moderate Republican candidates split the moderate vote.

Boulder City Council member Bob Greenlee may alter that equation. Rich from radio stations and the gaming industry, the politically experienced Greenlee has the money--and the familiarity with Boulder voters--to scare off other GOP moderates. And he's interested in the job, Greenlee says.

Greenlee has other key credentials besides his abortion-rights stance. He lives in Boulder County, which dominates the district, unlike the GOP candidates in the past three races. And although the Second Congressional District has been held by the Democrats for more than two decades, even Democratic insiders say the district these days is a toss-up--unlike the First District, which Democrat Pat Schroeder practically turned over to Diana DeGette.

"The Republicans [in the Second District] have had a genius for nominating people way out of the mainstream," says Paul Danish, a Democratic Boulder County commissioner. "If they're smart enough to nominate Bob, it could change everything."

Sean Conway, an aide to U.S. senator Wayne Allard and a longtime GOP insider, says of Greenlee, "He's the best chance we've had since 1974."

Greenlee's likely opponent is state representative Mark Paschall of Arvada, a protege of the district's religious-right political leader, Pat Miller.

"I'm confident that if I jump into this race, I'll win the primary," Paschall says, adding that he doesn't want to suffer the same fate as Miller. She won the GOP nomination in the past two congressional races only to lose badly to Skaggs. Paschall stood in for Miller in a couple of debates and says that if she were running this time, he would bow out so as not to split the anti-abortion vote. "We realize we are a minority," says Paschall, "and we know we can't make any advances as a house divided."

Paschall also says that he won't try to change his message as he branches out of Arvada and into Boulder County. "I think abortion is the defining moral issue of our age," he says, pausing to badmouth the abortion-rights wing of the GOP by adding, "A moderate Republican is like drinking lukewarm water."

Bill Swenson disagrees. He's a Republican state representative from Longmont who has been mentioned as another possible candidate for the congressional seat. "The district is just not that conservative," Swenson says. Nor is it that liberal. Even Skaggs aide Tracy Warren says that the district is "not as Democratic as everybody thinks." Registration numbers show that Democrats outnumber Republicans, 133,000 to 123,000 (thanks to Boulder County) but that 148,000 voters are unaffiliated.

In years past, moderates like Swenson were more than eager to challenge radical Republicans like Paschall. But the GOP moderates seem to be keeping their personal desires under control this time. Swenson, for one, is not about to run. "We have to try not to flood the market," he says.

That kind of talk is sweet to Bob Beauprez, chairman of the Boulder County GOP, who says, "I am seeing a level of excitement and a willingness to contribute money that hasn't been there for years. I've got people telling me that they would love to give--all [Greenlee] has to do is call them."

Greenlee says he realizes the stakes are high for his first foray into politics beyond the city council, where he's been since 1983.

"I'm very serious about this race," Greenlee says. And he has the funds to back that up. In 1975 Greenlee bought a struggling radio station in Boulder with money borrowed off a second mortgage on a relative's Chicago home. He turned that station into KBCO, which he sold in 1987 for $27.3 million. He also helped start station KXPK (The Peak), which he sold this year for $26 million. He's made money from a Black Hawk casino and from the Rock Bottom, Old Chicago and ChopHouse chain of restaurants. "He made all that money on his own," says Tom Eldridge, a fellow city council member. "Nobody begrudges him his money."

It certainly hasn't hurt him in Boulder. During his fourteen years on the council, Greenlee has been a lonely voice of conservatism opposed to strict controls on growth. He's been on the losing end of countless 8-1 votes, yet he has been able to garner support from the notably liberal Boulder voters. All council seats are elected citywide, and in the last council election, in 1995, he was the second-highest vote-getter out of fifteen candidates.

Even people who have sided against him for years say they like him. He once tried to oust Leslie Durgin from the mayor's chair, but she speaks glowingly of him now. "He has a gentle approach to issues and always does his homework," she says.

Sharon Klusman, a Republican who lost to Miller in the 1994 primary after splitting the vote with other moderate Republicans, says Greenlee has so much credibility that he probably is keeping other candidates away.

Not only dies he have credibility, but Greenlee has money. Klusman says big-time political donors tend to wait until after primaries to make contributions. But Greenlee could use his own money until then, although he says he doesn't plan to finance his primary race entirely on his own.

He says it is important to convince people to give him money for a campaign as a sort of test to see if his candidacy is viable. "It's a good, real-world test," Greenlee says.

But Klusman says it will take more than money to beat the well-organized religious-right wing of the GOP, which is extremely active inside the party on the precinct level.

"Bob Greenlee has a big job in reactivating the numerically greater--but not as active--Republican core," Klusman says.

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