Clowns to the Left of Me

Marc Holtzman's got a feeling that something in the Grand Old Party ain't right.

It's shaping up as a classic primary showdown: the Snooze versus the Shmooze.

Holtzman, of course, insists there are vast differences between himself and Beauprez. He sees himself as engaged in a battle for the soul of the party, an effort to rescue it from a leadership that's "become detached from reality" and drifted from the "core values and principles" of conservatism. The effort has cost him considerable political capital, but he rejects the notion that he's some kind of spoiler in the race.

"Our problem is with a very small slice of the senior leadership of the party," he says. "I'm not the anointed candidate, but I'm not anti-establishment, either. Every time I have a chance to appear on an equal platform, we prevail. I'm the only candidate in this race talking about issues and ideas, and that's what people want to hear."

Winners and shmoozers: Marc Holtzman enjoys a 
smiling moment with the 40th president.
Winners and shmoozers: Marc Holtzman enjoys a smiling moment with the 40th president.
Marc Holtzman and the 43rd president, along with 
fiancée Kristen Hubbell.
Marc Holtzman and the 43rd president, along with fiancée Kristen Hubbell.

Running for statewide office as a dark horse requires bold thinking. Some mavericks rent billboards or saturate the airwaves. Holtzman bought a jumbo-sized recreational vehicle, put his name in big letters on the side and hit the road.

A staffer estimates that the team has put close to 80,000 miles on the Marc 2006 RV in the past year. Holtzman has visited all 64 counties in the state, many of them several times, pressing the flesh at county fairs and backyard barbecues. He's spent more than two months in El Paso County alone, wooing the heart of the state's conservative hardliners.

The road show has drawn both accolades and ridicule. "When you go into small towns like Yuma or Cortez, everybody in town knows you're there," Holtzman enthuses. "We're building enough of a critical mass in our campaign that everywhere we go, we're getting people honking, thumbs up out the window."

He pauses. "We've had a few of the other kind [of hand gestures] as well, but that goes with the territory."

For several months, Holtzman kept a blog of his travels on his website; he says he hasn't had time to update the entries lately. But he doesn't regret the mileage.

"I think it's made me a better candidate," he explains. "I've stayed in a lot of people's homes, and that last hour before lights out, you really learn a lot about what's on people's minds, what they expect from government."

This grassroots, man-of-the-people theme is sounded repeatedly in Holtzman's campaign. His official bio says he was "born in the blue-collar coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania" and saved $25 "from his after-school job selling cameras" to pledge to Reagan's 1976 campaign. Omitted is any mention of Holtzman's affluent background or that his after-school job involved purchasing a million dollars' worth of cameras a year as a buyer for Jewelcor, his dad's national catalogue business. The candidate may be a man of some people -- the kind of people who have a condo in Cherry Creek and a 6,500-square-foot second home in Carbondale -- but he's hardly Everyman.

However inevitable it might be as a piece of strategy, the populist approach seems an ill-fitting choice for Holtzman. What's striking about his precocious rise to White House insider and subsequent successes is his willingness to pursue his own passions and hunches, regardless of the kind of grief he might get from others. How else do you explain a sixteen-year-old Jewish kid, the spawn of Hubert Humphrey Democrats, becoming so obsessed with Ronald Reagan that he campaigned door-to-door for him?

Reagan and his inner circle soon realized that Holtzman was, indeed, a remarkable guy. The 1976 campaign fizzled, but Holtzman became a pen pal of the future president. In 1977 he persuaded his father to hire Reagan to speak at a catalogue-showroom trade show in Chicago, for the modest sum of $5,000. He picked up his idol at O'Hare, and he still recalls the gate number (F6) and other minutiae from that historic meeting: "He was the first one off the plane. I remember grabbing his briefcase, and he carried his carry-on bag."

After that, Reagan chartered Holtzman's father's plane when he was in Pennsylvania, and Marc often went along for the ride. By the time he was twenty, Holtzman was running Reagan's Pennsylvania campaign. After the election, he moved to Washington and began fetching pizza for the future Cabinet. By the time he was 24, he was the executive director of Citizens for America, a conservative lobbying group, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Joe Coors and grabbing photo ops with the Gipper. "Who's that older man shaking hands with Marc Holtzman?" teased a headline in the Washington Times. A 1986 Rolling Stone profile, "Revenge of the Nerd," depicted him as the geekiest of all the young Reaganites.

By then, Holtzman had already made his first stab at running for office himself, seeking a congressional seat in his home district of Kingston, Pennsylvania, a Democratic stronghold. Despite raising a million dollars, he was trounced by a 2-1 margin. He went to work for one of his father's companies, at a time when the catalogue-showroom business was spiraling downward. (Jewelcor would file for bankruptcy a few months after Holtzman left in 1989.) But then he found his real calling in post-Communist Eastern Europe, forging deals between Western investors and Eastern entrepreneurs -- and reaping millions in the process.

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