John Hickenlooper is "the luckiest guy in the world," says Colorado GOP boss Dick Wadhams
At this point, Dan Maes has the Republican governor's nomination, endorsements from conservative heavy hitters like Hank Brown and not very much money -- which is why Colorado Republican Party head Dick Wadhams's $250 donation made local news. But while consultant Katy Atkinson suggested in July that Maes might drop out if he's cash poor, Wadhams says, "He's our nominee, and that's the bottom line," despite his fear that John Hickenlooper will win the three-way guv race in a walk.
Although GOP stalwarts like Senator Greg Brophy floated Maes-surrender scenarios, Wadhams believes "that ship sailed on primary election night, when Dan Maes won."
What about Wadhams acting as a messenger for third-party candidate Tom Tancredo, who pledged to drop his own guv bid if Maes agreed to quit, too, allowing the party to name a more viable candidate? At this point, Wadhams prefers to play down his role in the deal, which Maes summarily rejected.
"I just wanted to be able to tell Dan the offer was on the table," he says. "We met for an hour and a half that morning, and spent ten minutes on the offer. It was a fairly small part of the conversation."
As for what people should take away from his willingness to serve as a go-between, he concedes, "It is what it is."
The same applies to Maes's donation shortage, which Wadhams chalks up to "the Tancredo factor. I also think people who traditionally give to campaigns aren't that familiar with Dan. But the bigger one has to do with Tancredo."
This situation frustrates Wadhams to no end.
"All you have to do is look at the polls and you can see how vulnerable Hickenlooper is. He only got 41 percent in the most recent Rasmussen poll, and I think people see the duplicity in this candidate. They don't have the foggiest idea who he is or what the stands for. I believe he's just a quirky version of Bill Ritter -- but trying to pin him down on an issue is like nailing jelly to a wall. It's virtually impossible."
Thus far, Hickenlooper's TV spots have steered away from specifics, too. The first shows him taking a shower with his clothes on, to emphasize his cheapness, while the second underscores frugality via double-sided copies and pitchers of water.
"I think he can overplay this quirky card, because voters are in a very serious mood in 2010," Wadhams says. "They're worried about the financial situation of the state and the nation and the overreach of government. It's really cute to have John Hickenlooper walking down the hall with two pitchers of water, but I think the swing voters in this election are going to want a little more substance to go with that. And yet this is the same guy who at the end of the legislative session refused to take a position on the Democratic tax increases because he said it wasn't appropriate for him to comment. The absurdity of that is breathtaking. But even with that, a three-way race is very difficult to win against him."
Especially if Maes can't collect enough coins -- and Wadhams stresses again that the Colorado Republican Party isn't in a position to rescue him financially.
"Our prime focus is our victory operation, the voter identification and get-out-the-vote operation that benefits everything from the senator and governor races to candidates for county commissioner across the state," he says. "That's the primary function of our fourteen offices around the state -- to invest in that program."
At the same time, he continues, "every candidate has to make their own case to donors. They're not automatic givers."
That's also true of the Republican Governors Association, which isn't investing in Maes, either. Can Wadhams make a pitch on his behalf? Not really. "Remember, they're a 527" -- an independent political entity. "The communication we can do with them is very limited, if anything. They watch these races very carefully and make their own decision about what they do with their resources."
That leaves Wadhams's $250 check, which he says "is to show my commitment and emphasize the importance of this." But if too few of his fellow Republicans follow his lead, Wadhams sees a happy November in John Hickenlooper's future.
"He's the luckiest guy in the world right now, sitting here in this three-way race," he says. "And he might get away with it."
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