Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Colorado's GOP hopes to strike while the irony is hot

By eking out 11 percent of the vote, Dan Maes managed to save the Colorado Republican Party from the ultimate ignominy of losing its major-party status. But the state's top GOPs lost plenty of other things in the debacle of the November gubernatorial election: the governor's office, which had looked like a lock just a year before, when incumbent Democrat Bill Ritter was still officially in the running; just about any claim to credibility; state party chair Dick Wadhams, who just decided not to run for a third term; and over a hundred bonus delegates to the Colorado Republican State Central Committee, which will choose a new party chair next month.

Under both state statute and party bylaws, a county committee gets two bonus members for every 10,000 votes cast for the party's gubernatorial or presidential candidate in the most recent election (the governor's race and presidential race alternate every two years). And because of Maes's sorry showing at the polls, the number of bonus Republican delegates "is drastically lower than in previous years," says Wadhams. "In a normal year, give or take, it's about 120 bonus members. This year, it's going to be eighteen."

The conservative stronghold of El Paso County is the relative winner: It gets six bonus members in 2011 — eighteen fewer than it had in 2009. Douglas, Larimer, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties each get two bonus members, far fewer than they had in 2009. Adams County? Exactly zero bonus members — which puts the big metro county on par with the smallest counties in the state. Colorado's 64 county parties have until February 15 to elect their chair, vice-chair and secretary, all of whom will serve on the Republican State Central Committee, along with whoever wins whatever bonus-member slots a county may be getting. These county reps will join the ninety elected Republican officials (including district attorneys and University of Colorado regents) and state party officials (including Wadhams, as outgoing chair) who are automatically part of the committee — a group that has numbered as many as 400 in the past but will top out at 300 when it meets March 26 in Douglas County. That, by the way, is a Republican-leaning county that had sixteen bonus members in 2009, after residents there cast more than 75,000 votes for John McCain; this time, Douglas County gets two, having lost a dozen "due to Tancredo votes," parses Craig Steiner, who's been keeping count on his Common Sense American Conservatism website.

And whoever becomes the next chair of the Colorado Republican Party, he'll definitely have Tom Tancredo to kick around — or be kicked around by. "You know I didn't leave the Republican Party because I was enamored of the American Constitution Party," Tancredo says, after officially returning to the fold. "It was because it was what I had to do." After trying — unsuccessfully — to convince both Scott McInnis and Maes to drop out of the Republican Party primary, the ACP had something Tancredo needed for his next move: ballot access. And he had something the ACP was willing to trade that for: vote-getting (and definitely attention-getting) ability. Tancredo's devotion to the American Constitution Party lasted just long enough for him to run for governor on that ticket, taking hundreds of thousands of votes from Maes — and dozens of bonus delegates from Colorado counties. If the counties had those delegates again, they might be able to rebel against the party's powers-that-be, just as rebellious caucuses last year — which drew twice as many participants as previous years — snubbed more traditional candidates in favor of Maes. "This is by far the most ironic thing I've ever seen in politics," Tancredo says. "At the end of it, I'm going back to the Republican Party and do my best to shove it in the right direction."

Wadhams is seeing ironies, too. Back in 2009, as the Tea Party tidal wave was sweeping the country, drowning incumbents and raising unlikely candidates who'd never had public-office experience, conspiracy theorists fretted that "we'd hand-selected candidates here and demanded that we stay out of the nomination process," he remembers. As a result, Maes wound up winning top billing in the primary against McInnis — who was done in not by a rush of support for Maes, but by his own limp response to plagiarism charges. "The very people who are now attacking me and this office for not vetting Dan Maes are the same people who'd told us to stay out," Wadhams says. "The irony is breathtaking."

Even Tancredo doesn't really blame Wadhams for the "aberrational" Maes loss — but he does fault the party chair for his inability to counter the Colorado Democracy Alliance, that Democratic weapon armed with hundreds of thousands of dollars for opposition research against McInnis (CODA discovered his "Musings on Water") and negative ads pushing that research. "That's where I think the party really fell down," Tancredo says of Wadham's tenure. "That's what they needed in order to combat CODA. He's got the bully pulpit; he could have been the prime mover."

Wadhams's departure from the state chair race leaves state senator Ted Harvey; John Wagner, who ran the Senate campaign of Clive Tidwell (who?) in 2010; and Bart Barton, who recently moved to Colorado from Michigan and must wonder just what kind of place and party he landed in, vying for the spot. "The deeper I got into this, the more I thought there were other things to do," Wadhams says. And while he isn't supporting any of the three current candidates, he's confident one or two more will join the lineup.

Would Tancredo consider jumping into the party-chair race? "Honest to God, throughout my entire political career, party politics has been the lowest run on my list of interests," he says. "Thank God I had people who worked for me who understood how it worked."

But if Dan Maes runs, all bets are off.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun