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"There was a distancing in our relationship before that, but certainly nothing that should have accounted for what transpired," Holtzman says, adding that Owens "tried to get me to stay neutral. In good conscience, I couldn't do it. He told me if I opposed C that he would not support me, that I would never be governor, that he would endorse Bob Beauprez."
Shortly after that meeting, Owens did exactly that. The governor's endorsement pointedly praised Beauprez as "a third-generation Coloradan with deep roots in our state," someone who "knows what it's like to put in a hard day's work, build a business and meet a payroll." (Translation: He's not that carpet-bagging, globe-trotting, non-native opportunist Holtzman.) Holtzman says he hasn't had any contact with the governor for the past year. Owens did not respond to Westword's requests for comment.
Beauprez was a late entry to the field of Republican candidates. The early buzz had centered on Holtzman, Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton and state treasurer Mike Coffman. But then Coffman and Norton bowed out -- and Beauprez, much to Holtzman's dismay, bowed in.
"Bob came to my office in February of 2005," Holtzman says. "I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. Bob told me that he'd just been appointed to Ways and Means, that there was a 99 percent chance he was going to continue his career path in Congress, that it was highly unlikely he was going to run for governor. The last thing I asked him to do as he left was to keep an open mind and not endorse anyone until mid-year, to give me five or six months to put a campaign together that's worthy of his consideration. He said he'd do that."
Two months later, Beauprez was in the race. Perhaps the politic thing would have been for Holtzman to step aside at that point, rather than risk splitting the party with a fractious primary. Certainly, people with greater claims on the party faithful than Holtzman have ducked the governor's race, precisely because of the GOP leadership's insistence on toe-the-line loyalty in its champion. One of those who declined to run is former senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, ex-Democrat turned moderate Republican. "What they want is absolute obedience," Campbell complained to an Associated Press reporter a few months ago. "I wasn't worried about losing. I was afraid of winning."
With 1.1 million registered Republicans in Colorado, nearly 40 percent of all voters, the party has a distinct edge in statewide contests. The rest of the voting population is almost evenly split among Democrats and unaffiliated voters, many of whom tend to vote conservative. But the highest turnout in a gubernatorial primary was the 214,000 votes cast eight years ago, when Owens knocked off Tom Norton. Even if 300,000 turn out for the August 8 primary this year, that would seem to give the insiders' candidate a strong advantage.
But Holtzman has another scenario in mind. Deep in his psyche is the story of a certain maverick candidate who defied the kingmakers by running for governor of California in 1966, even though he'd never held public office. All of the Republican bigwigs endorsed his primary opponent, the former mayor of San Francisco, who was deemed the only man capable of unseating the eminently popular Democratic governor, Pat Brown. Brown's people even poured money into the Republican primary, hoping that long shot Ronald Reagan would win the nomination.
And he did. And he kicked Pat Brown's ass.
"The point is this: The establishment isn't always right," Holtzman says. "The same thing happened when Reagan ran for president in 1976. Every Republican state chairman, all fifty of them, signed a petition begging Ronald Reagan to get out of the race."
The Gipper lost that one. But he carried Marc Holtzman's precinct.
Snubbed by the governor and blindsided by Beauprez, Holtzman set about trying to establish himself as the "true" hardline conservative in the race. To the unenlightened, there might not seem to be a dime's worth of difference between the two candidates, but Holtzman wanted to show voters that he and Beauprez stood on opposite sides of a moral and ideological abyss.
As he stumped the state urging defeat of Referendum C last fall, Holtzman lashed out at his opponent for not being sufficiently outraged about the measure. Beauprez had remarked that the budget-boosting plan was a "bitter pill" the state might have to swallow, and Holtzman pounced on his ambivalence. After C passed and the two began to speechify about other matters, Holtzman denounced Beauprez as a big-spending, flip-flopping party hack who bends with the prevailing political winds and was a Johnny-come-lately on hot-button issues such as immigration reform. The rhetoric was so aggressive that after a couple of debates, the Beauprez camp threatened to pull out of future joint appearances, then reversed its position -- providing more ammo for Holtzman's attacks on the man he calls "Both Ways Bob."
In response, Beauprez has cited his 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union and endorsements from other groups that have praised him as a solid fiscal and social conservative. But Holtzman won't back down.
"This is a very calculating person who puts politics ahead of policy," he says. "It's very easy to manipulate a voting record. He completely changed his voting pattern in 2005, when he decided he had statewide political ambitions. He has truly earned the label ŒBoth Ways Bob.' Who knows where this guy is going to be tomorrow? When you're governor, you've got to be willing to lead."