The U.S. House's passage of a massive health-care bill President Barack Obama is planning to sign into law today is already having plenty of political impact locally, with the Gun Owners of America targeting Dem Betsy Markey, who voted for the measure (after voting against it), and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers joining a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the legislation.
But that's only the beginning, argues Dick Wadhams, head of the Colorado Republican Party. He predicts a period of "great political turmoil" nationally and locally leading up to the November election -- and that's fine by him.
As he puts it, "Thank you, Barack Obama and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, for passing this monstrosity. Because it helps me and it helps Republicans."
Even if the bill hadn't passed on Sunday, Wadhams believes "it was already going to be a major issue in the 2010 campaign, and much to the detriment of the Democratic candidates. But I think its passage even intensifies the predicament the Democrats find themselves in across the country, and especially here in Colorado.
"The more people take a look at the bribery, the thuggery that went on to pass this legislation, and once they take a look at the details of the legislation -- how the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] numbers were a joke because of the way the House Democratic leadership played fast and loose with the numbers -- the more they're going to dislike it.
"This really does impose taxes on families and small businesses -- and I can't wait until a slew of young professionals and young adults find out that for the first time in history, the federal government is going to mandate that they enter into a contract with a private entity. For the first time in history! I can't wait for that to sink in.
"I think the Democrats have deluded themselves. It harks back to that great quote by Nancy Pelosi, where she said we have to pass the bill so people can find out what's in it. That really symbolizes the fraud that's been perpetrated on the American people. This battle is going to rage for years now."
At this distance, anyhow, that seems a safe bet, particularly considering that many of the measure's provisions don't kick in until 2014. But Wadhams believes the establishment of a legislative health-care beachhead will embolden Dems interested in broadening the measure.
"What's clearly going to happen is, the left is going to continue to push for a single-payer, nationalized health-care system," he says. "They agreed to this bill, but they're going to continue to push from the left."
As for the right, he promises that "there will be a concerted effort to campaign on repealing this bill" -- a process he acknowledges will take years. "Short of veto-proof majorities, which aren't going to happen, we would have to win majorities in Congress in 2010 and sustain those majorities in 2012 -- and elect a new Republican president. But I think that's possible, because there really are two different visions of what this country should be. One wants to concentrate all power and all decision-making in the hands of a vastly omnipotent federal government, and the other believes that state and local government and individual citizens ought to have the power.
"The Democrats will wrap themselves up in how they want to take care of people, like they have for decades -- and I don't think Republicans have done a good job of articulating our vision. But I think this fight is crystallizing our vision."
At the same time, the protests in Washington, D.C. over the weekend provided ammo for Dems against health-care opponents -- especially in light of reports about racial and homophobic epithets hurled at some legislators. Wadhams, though, rejects the notion that these values represent conservatives in general.
"There are going to be nuts in every crowd -- and by the way, some of the crap I've heard when I've encountered left-wing protests is unbelievable as well. And I don't hold every liberal accountable for some idiot in a liberal protest who shouts something. When people come together, you can't control who shows up or what they say. But the 99.9999 percent of the people who have protested in front of the Capitol in Denver and the U.S. Capitol in Washington are people genuinely concerned about the future of their country, and they're afraid of the power they're placing in federal government.
"I deplore any racial attacks or attacks on Barney Frank's sexuality. I couldn't care less about what he is. But that's just a side show that's convenient for the left to color everyone who opposes them with. And look at the stuff they used to throw at George Bush -- comparing him to Hitler, and all the anti-Christian stuff that I've heard from the left at times. I think that's bigoted as well. It comes from the extremes at both ends, and I deplore it on both sides -- but I don't think it typifies either point of view."
When asked about vulnerable Colorado candidates, Wadhams quickly zeroes in on Markey.
"Talk about weak and pathetic," he says. "Voting against the health-care bill the first time, and voting for it now. And that drama she played out on the cap-and-trade bill, where she didn't tell her constituents where she was going to come down until she went to the floor to vote. She has demonstrated she should not be a member of Congress."
Less predictably, Wadhams also fires shots at John Salazar, although with less abandon:
"Everybody likes John Salazar as a person, but he represents a fundamentally conservative district, and the swing voters there are waking up to the fact that he hasn't provided leadership. He played out the same dance on the cap-and-trade bill. He didn't tell anybody how he was going to vote -- and even though he voted against it, he played no part in trying to kill it. And he proudly voted for the health-care bill twice. He's in trouble."
Next on the list? Ed Perlmutter:
"He ran as this pro-business, moderate Democrat," Wadhams maintains, "and a lot of Republican business leaders decided, 'Ed's one of us.' Well, Ed's not one of us. He's solidly in the Pelosi-Obama camp. He hasn't deviated from the Obama camp at all. So I think Ed Perlmutter could find himself fighting for his political life in November."
And now, it's Michael Bennet time:
"Bennet has allowed himself to be pushed to the left by Andrew Romanoff. If you look at his early statements about health care, they certainly weren't this hard-left point of view. And now, in the last couple of months, he's been writing letters to Obama demanding a public option -- and that's thanks to Romanoff, who's pushed him so far to the left. Now, Bennet's going to win the nomination; he'll swamp Romanoff with money. But he's put himself in a much more vulnerable position for the general election."
Finally, Wadhams takes aim at John Hickenlooper, referring to him by a nickname that still hasn't gotten much traction, but not for a lack of him trotting it out.
"My friend Hickenritter doesn't seem to have a consistent position on cap-and-trade. You have to check what day it is to find out what his position is. And then there was his inability to take a position on the tax increases that went to the legislature. He's said he'll talk about the issues after the legislative session. And he carelessly said on the Mike Rosen program that he doesn't think it's the right thing to raise fees during a recession, and then the Denver Post shows that his budget does raise fees. I don't think this guy has the foggiest idea who he is or what he represents."
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The overall impression left by these pronouncements? Wadhams scents blood in the water, and he thinks it'll keep flowing for years.
"I've been generally pessimistic that Barack Obama would be vulnerable in 2012 even if the Republicans made substantial gains in 2010 -- but I've changed my mind," he says. "I think he will be vulnerable, and I think we will potentially be able to defeat him. All bets are off for the 2010 and 2012 elections. If you thought things were tumultuous in the past year, better fasten your seat belts for the next two election cycles.
"I think America will be in great political turmoil after the passage of this bill -- and I think that's good, because we need this debate on the cost and scope and size of the government. Barack Obama has picked a fight I think we need in this country. So let the debate begin."