Yesterday, Tom Tancredo confirmed his plans to run for governor now that state senator Josh Penry has dropped out of the race. That throws a kink into frontrunner Scott McInnis' dream of a united party -- united behind him, anyhow.
Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, claims to be uninterested in throwing himself on the tracks in front of the Tancredo Express before it can leave the station. "Our nomination process is still open, and our precinct caucuses aren't until March," Wadhams says. "My job as state chairman is to run an open and fair process from that standpoint. And that's what I intend to do."
Still, he hints that McInnis remains in the strongest overall position, no matter what kind of challenge Tancredo mounts.
"I do think Scott McInnis, with the departure of Josh Penry, has the opportunity to go a long ways toward winning the nomination over the coming weeks and months," Wadhams allows. "It will depend on what his campaign does over the next few weeks. But the practical reality is, these nominations are really decided by hundreds of thousands of people who will ultimately vote in a primary, and the tens of thousands of people who will participate in our precinct caucuses."
Populism is more in favor than are smoky backrooms, he insists.
"Whenever I hear people say, 'We need to get behind a single candidate,' I always wonder who 'we' is," he says. "If 'we' means a few Republican power brokers, that doesn't work anymore, if it ever did. As far as I'm concerned, 'we' are the thousands of Republicans who'll in some fashion play a part in this process."
These days, the unity boosters frequently point to a recent congressional race in New York state, where a Democrat named Bill Owens appeared to achieve victory in a previously safe Republican district when a Conservative Party candidate attacked Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava from the right. At this writing, the election's still in doubt -- but however it works out, Owens still did far better than he would have under other circumstances.
Wadhams, though, sees a different lesson from the situation.
"In this case, you did have a bunch of power brokers in a room. Eleven county chairs got together to pick Dede, and that kind of proves my point: When a few people make decisions like this, a lot of times they make a mistake.
"I've had some problems with how the national media has characterized her candidacy," he goes on. "They've talked a lot about her being pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, but those issues weren't the defining problems for her. She publicly supported the stimulus package and card-check" -- the latter described by The Weekly Standard as "legislation that eliminates the secret ballot requirement for organizing unions." As such, "She was not a fiscal conservative. And that's what those eleven chairs should have been cognizant of. As we seek to rebound, the common theme you hear is that we need to get back to our fiscal-responsibility roots, and I think we're making progress on that: Every Republican but one voted against that healthcare monstrosity last week.
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"That's the litmus test for Republicans right now. We want fiscal conservatives to be our standard bearers, because we need to restore our credibility on that issue. We lost that credibility nationally, and we lost it here in Colorado, too, when our legislative majorities appeared to be more concerned with social issues than with confronting the beginnings of our fiscal problems five or six years ago. And Dede didn't meet that standard with her support of the stimulus package and card check. I thought, What's the difference between her and the Democrat if she's going to vote for stuff like that?"
Of course, some Republicans aren't sold on McInnis' conservatism -- but Wadhams isn't among the doubters. "I think Scott will be able to make the case that he meets that standard. When you look at his voting record and the agenda he's laid out as a candidate, he can easily avoid what transpired in New York."
Regarding the prospect of a bloody primary here in Colorado, "I've always been a proponent -- and I've said this incessantly -- that primaries and competition makes people better," Wadhams maintains. "I really do believe that. If Tom Tancredo gets in and competes for the nomination, so be it. Scott McInnis will have to earn the nomination under that reality, against another opponent.
"I've talked to Tom, and I know he's inclined to run," he notes. "So we'll see how that all works out. But I'm not discouraging or encouraging him to run. That's not my job."