Dick Wadhams
Dick Wadhams

Dick Wadhams still likes hot Republican-on-Republican action

After Tom Tancredo declared that he fully intended to run for governor, Colorado GOP head Dick Wadhams insisted that he was okay with such a challenge to frontrunner (and unity fan) Scott McInnis, announcing in this space, "I've always been a proponent -- and I've said this incessantly -- that primaries and competition makes people better."

Since then, the McInnis camp has done everything possible to contradict this statement, ultimately creating a "Platform for Prosperity" that persuaded both Tancredo and former candidate Josh Penry to endorse Scotty Mac. But Wadhams, who was at the press conference where the platform was unveiled, insists that he hasn't turned his back on his previously expressed philosophy.

"I still feel that primaries actually make candidates stronger," Wadhams says. "I've been through two tough primaries running campaigns in Colorado, for Wayne Allard and Bill Owens, and I think it made both of them better candidates. And I don't agree with several of my friends that primaries were to blame for our candidates being defeated in 2004 and 2006. I think we lost those elections for a lot of reasons, but not for the primaries."

Moreover, Wadhams says "the dynamics of the past couple of weeks," when the McInnis forces went into overdrive to convince Tancredo to stay on the sidelines, "were not the result of me or anyone else at the party urging either Josh Penry or Tom Tancredo not to run. In fact, my preference would have been that we had a competitive primary -- but they came to their own conclusions.

"I think Josh was driven by family considerations -- but ultimately, I think what was motivating both Josh and Tom in terms of what they did yesterday was the desire to see a clear agenda that Scott McInnis would embrace as the presumed Republican nominee in light of their withdrawals from the race."

The pressure to come up with such a solution simulated a primary campaign, Wadhams believes. As he puts it, "The potential of a Tancredo candidacy actually did what competition does: It made Scott McInnis a better candidate. His campaign is now much better defined than it was. So the debate within our party actually served the purpose that primary competition achieves."

That leaves Dan Maes as the only McInnis rival who's refused to bow out, and Wadhams says "I've made it clear he's welcome to stay in the race" -- something Maes confirmed earlier today. Still, Wadhams doesn't believe the road ahead of him will be a snap to navigate.

"You might have seen my quote today in the Post story, and Josh kind of echoed it. The brutal truth about statewide politics is, you have to be able to raise money in order to be competitive. And I do think my friend Dan, who I admire greatly, and who's worked his tail off, has to come to grips with how he's going to finance a statewide campaign. He's done a great job going around the state, talking to people in the party, and the word from candidate forums is that Dan's done a great job. But he still has to deal with the financial reality."

Not to mention the heavyweights now behind McInnis.

"I think Scott went a long way toward consolidating the nomination yesterday," Wadhams says. "And his agenda is something Republicans can almost unanimously rally around, whether they're running for state office or in legislative races. We're putting the platform on our website today because we believe strongly it's a great document. Having Bill Owens and Tom Tancredo standing in the same photo really drives home the broad-based nature of it."

At the same time, the behind-the-scenes meetings that spurred this Kumbaya moment (at least one of which was held at McInnis' condo) aren't all that far removed from the sort of backroom deal-making Wadhams knocked in his previous conversation with Westword. Indeed, he blamed such gamesmanship for undermining GOP hopes in a pivotal New York state congressional race. So what's the difference between that disaster and the McInnis approach?

Plenty, Wadhams says. He cites the universal appeal of the platform, as well as the fact that "the process isn't over. The challenge for Scott McInnis is to continue to go out and sell himself and his platform before the caucuses and the state assembly and the primary -- when we start shooting with real bullets. People still have the opportunity to register their discontent and find a new candidate or whatever over the next four months, and Scott McInnis will have to work very hard to lock down the nomination."

As for Wadhams, he has the luxury of being able to focus his attacks on Bill Ritter -- which he does with delight when talking about the governor's negative reaction to McInnis' platform.

"I was terribly amused by him calling an 'emergency' news conference on Sunday night, and then essentially saying, 'Republicans suck,'" Wadhams asserts with a chuckle. "You don't call a news conference with two hours notice in the cold outside the state capitol unless there's something really big to talk about. And then he called another one last night! It's downright funny watching this guy perform. I can guarantee you that Governor Owens never would have done that."

Of course, Owens had gone through the primary wars before reaching that point -- something McInnis may not experience.

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