Clowns to the Left of Me

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

As an example of his opponent's supposed perfidy, a new flier from the Holtzman campaign claims that while Beauprez has called for an end to "sanctuary cities" that encourage illegal immigrants to come to Colorado, he actually voted against various measures that would have aided that cause, including an amendment sponsored by Tom Tancredo. But Beauprez spokesman John Marshall says his man voted against an early version of the Tancredo amendment because of its form, then supported it in later versions.

"There have been five, maybe six votes on sanctuary cities," Marshall notes. "The first ones, they were trying to legislate it in appropriation bills, and that's something you don't do. Bob voted no. As the issue continued, Mr. Tancredo used different vehicles for that amendment, and Bob's voted with him ever since then."

Marshall calls Holtzman's latest attack on his boss an act of desperation. "I think Marc understands that he's in significant trouble," he says. "It's hard, when Tom Tancredo is supporting Bob, to say that Bob is a squish on immigration. It's hard, when Joel Hefley and Wayne Allard are supporting Bob, to say that he's a squish on spending.

"The reality is that Marc is struggling to be relevant. When you don't have a record to run on and you don't have a base of supporters, the only thing you're left with is to spray machine-gun bullets into a crowd."

Yet the Beauprez campaign has found Holtzman's campaign relevant enough -- or at least enough of a threat -- to do some tommy-gunning of its own. The Beauprez website features recent polling data that indicates Beauprez now holds a slight edge on Ritter in a head-to-head contest. The site has launched a "disclosure watch," making much ado of Holtzman's refusal to release his tax returns and wondering about the "hidden" source of a half-million-dollar loan he made to his own campaign. (The source, it seems, is Holtzman.) A radio ad paid for by an "independent" political committee with close ties to Referendum C and Beauprez supporters accuses Holtzman of having a credibility gap worthy of "Bill Clinton under oath."

Holtzman argues that the increasingly nasty tone of the contest shows how deeply he's angered the party leadership by daring to take on its champion. "Bob can't defend his position on the issues, so he and his surrogates have resorted to these frivolous attacks and ridiculous statements," he says. "They're trying to distract attention from his accountability."

By contrast, he adds, his single experience debating Bill Ritter one-on-one was delightful. "I found him to be a perfect gentleman," he says, clearly relishing the prospect of a "civil" campaign against an unabashed Democrat after the primary is over.

But first Holtzman has to survive the slings and arrows of his own party. Of all the efforts to neutralize him, the probe into his role in the anti-C campaign has been the most damaging -- and the most revealing. The complaint that triggered the hearings was brought not by some tax-and-spend liberal, but by Steve Durham, longtime GOP activist and a Beauprez ally. Testimony suggested an uncomfortably close arrangement between the "If C Wins, You Lose" committee and Holtzman's own staff, in possible violation of campaign finance laws. Dick Leggitt's admission on the stand that he concocted polling numbers he gave to a Denver Postreporter -- because he suspected the reporter was spilling his guts to the Beauprez machine, and Leggitt wanted to send a "message" -- ultimately cost Leggitt his job as Holtzman's campaign manager. (Ironically, while Leggitt didn't have the actual data, his basic assertion to the reporter, that the Referendum C battle had raised Holtzman's profile among Republican voters, was confirmed by an actual poll done for the Rocky Mountain News last year.) And Holtzman's own performance on the stand, in which he contradicted what he'd said in a deposition by stating that he'd had "another recollection," provided the fuel for the Clinton comparison.

Holtzman maintains that he did nothing wrong. His opposition to Referendum C cost him more than he gained, he insists, including his friendship with Owens and some support in the business community. "I paid a significant price," he says. "But if I had to do it all over again, I'd do the same thing."

And the administrative hearing? "It was a significant distraction," he says. "I think it was intended to be."

The body blows the candidates have been trading may be a source of some alarm to party insiders -- and giddy amusement among Democrats -- but not everyone sees it as a bad thing. "Whoever heard of a primary that isn't contentious?" asks Douglas Bruce, the El Paso County commissioner who authored the TABOR amendment. "I don't see that there's any blood on the floor in this race."

Bruce hasn't endorsed either candidate yet. "I see more of a difference in style and emotion," he says. "I suspect they'd be on the same side 90 percent of the time, and I'm confident that whoever prevails will have the support of the other candidate."

But other party stalwarts are genuinely outraged by Holtzman's campaign. Bruce Benson, the former state party chairman and 1994 gubernatorial candidate, is so incensed that he bankrolled the attack ad challenging Holtzman's credibility. "I just think he's an embarrassment," Benson says. "He's trying to rip the guts out of this party. He's wooing the far-out, and I think he's dangerous. I've opposed Republicans before, but I've never felt this strongly about any candidate."

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