On Monday, Scott McInnis spokesman Sean Duffy insisted his guy wasn't a dead fish. But at this writing, he's flopping on the dock, refusing to admit that he doesn't have lungs -- or that he lost last night's primary to Dan Maes. But while Colorado Republican Party boss Dick Wadhams has kind words for Maes, he sticks to his previous position -- that Maes has no chance to winning the governor's race if Tom Tancredo stays a candidate.
When given an open-ended invitation to weigh in on the events of primary night, Wadhams chooses to talk about a Democrat -- Michael Bennet, who defeated Andrew Romanoff -- rather than one of his ideological brethren.
According to Wadhams, "it's clear that Michael Bennet would have been defeated by Andrew Romanoff had he not been dragged across the line by Barack Obama," who participated in a conference call with Bennet last week. "But his problem now is, he's tied so heavily to a Democratic president who in a recent poll had only 38 percent approval in Colorado, and disapproval in the mid-50s. Barack Obama is a yoke around his neck.
"The result of the primary is that Bennet had to move so far to the left in order to win the primary -- that's where Romanoff pushed him, and Bennet willingly went there. Plus, he voted for a failed stimulus bill that clearly a majority of Colorado voters opposed. And a clear majority of Colorado voters opposed the health-care monstrosity, they opposed cap and trade, they opposed card check. All the issues where Michael Bennet finally took a position in the primary, he's on the wrong side of Colorado voters."
What about Ken Buck? The Republican senatorial primary winner defeated Jane Norton, seen by one and all as the preferred choice of the GOP establishment. Will the latter unite behind Buck?
"I don't think there's any doubt," Wadhams says. "The stakes are too high in this election, and what Colorado Republicans are most committed to is reversing this very dangerous path that Barack Obama and Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper are taking us down. So I don't think it'll take a lot to unite the party behind Ken Buck. Ken proved himself in this campaign. This is a guy who was counted out last fall, when Jane got in. Jane took a pretty big fall, but she fought back and made it a competitive race. But Ken held on in the end, and I think he's proven how tough he is. And I think he's proven he's an articulate candidate who can draw the contrasts between him and Michael Bennet."
Did the widely held belief that Norton was handpicked for victory by the party elite eventually doom her candidacy?
"It's hard to define what being 'the party choice' means," Wadhams maintains. "But I do think one of the things that happened to Jane is, there was a perception that she was talked into running by people in Washington in positions of power. I think that was an unfair characterization. I think Jane made her own decision to run for the Senate. And she's never lived in Washington. She's lived her life in Colorado. But I do think that perception existed, and that's what started her decline, after starting out as the presumptive nominee.
"Even though there were some early missteps in her campaign, Jane was a great candidate," he continues. "I saw her on the trail -- I saw her in every corner of the state -- and Jane the candidate was outstanding."
Wadhams also throws bouquets to Josh Penry, a gubernatorial candidate before dropping out in favor of McInnis; Penry subsequently became Norton's campaign manager. Indeed, his comments seem to be laying the groundwork for a Penry candidacy in 2014 should John Hickenlooper become governor.
"Josh made the race competitive," Wadhams notes. "He did a great job of bringing the campaign back. You've really got to complement him. But whatever the perception was about Jane did impact her campaign, especially in the 2010 environment, where Washington is a four-letter word."
Given that, did Norton make a mistake by spending the last weekend before the primary standing beside Arizona Senator John McCain, who's widely disliked by so-called Liberty Movement groups?
"That's a very good question," Wadhams says. "But I won't second-guess their decision on that. I know Josh well enough to know they thought through that very carefully. I wasn't privy to the discussions, but I know it wasn't made without a great deal of thought."
And with that, Wadhams finally gets around to talking about Maes. But his back-pats lack much enthusiasm.
"I'm going to be contacting Dan this morning to congratulate him," Wadhams says. "The thing about it is, two years ago right now, nobody knew who he was. In fact, eighteen months ago, nobody knew who he is. So you have to give Dan Maes a great deal of credit. He tenaciously fought for this nomination and he won last night. It's a remarkable feat he's accomplished."
Then, with the kind words out of the way, Wadhams changes direction.
"The governor's race is a very difficult one for us right now," he acknowledges. "I haven't made any bones about it. Tom Tancredo makes it unwinnable if he remains a third-party candidate. That's the way the race stands right now."
The American Constitution Party, for which Tancredo is running, doesn't subscribe to this view. In a July interview, party rep Doug Campbell said he sees a way for Tancredo to win with 35 percent of the vote. But Wadhams doesn't see similar math playing out in Maes's favor.
"I find it virtually impossible to see a scenario where we win the race with Tancredo's third-party candidacy," he says. "But what I do know -- and this is the frustrating part of this discussion -- is that John Hickenlooper is a terribly flawed candidate. In a recent Denver Post poll, even with all the bad press that Dan Maes and Scott McInnis had gotten in the weeks leading up to that poll, Hickenlooper only got 45 percent of the vote. That seems to be where he's stuck. And that tells me if we get a clean shot at Hickenlooper, we can beat him.
"The fundamental realities of this race haven't changed. There's no discernible difference between John Hickenlooper and Bill Ritter -- and why isn't Bill Ritter running for reelection? Because he was facing the prospect of being the first incumbent governor to lose reelection in 48 years.
"And Hickenlooper, whatever crowd he stands in front of, he plays to it. He goes to Copenhagen and tells a climate conference, 'How can anyone be a skeptic of global warming?' And then he comes back to Colorado and tells an energy group that he himself is a skeptic of global warming. He's got a remarkable inability to be truthful in front of a group, and he seems to be stuck in the mid-forties. But the third-party candidacy still makes it virtually impossible to beat him."
The latest whispering campaign regarding a Republican Party savior centers around Re/Max founder Dave Liniger. Wadhams claims to have no knowledge of that and says he hasn't taken part in any discussions revolving around a possible Liniger candidacy.
As for a possible conversation with Tancredo about pulling the plug for the good of Colorado conservatism, it's not on agenda.
"As you well know, I made my views known about Tom Tancredo's third-party candidacy a few weeks ago, and my mind hasn't changed. There's nothing more I can say about it other than the reality it has on the race. So I have nothing more to say about or to Tom."
And Maes? Is he itching to advise him to quit in favor of someone with a realistic chance at victory?
"As I said, I'm planning on talking to him today, and I'm sure we'll talk about the campaign, and what I think he needs to do as our nominee -- because he won the nomination last night."
What steps must Maes take to get the Republican power structure to look upon him as a viable candidate rather than the electoral equivalent of the Lusitania?
In Wadhams's view, "he's got to put together a professional campaign organization, and he's got to raise some money. Because candidates have to do that. There's a misperception that the party sits around and doles out millions of dollars to candidates, but it doesn't work that way, especially with these crazy campaign finance laws we've got. So he's got a window of opportunity to go beyond where he is now. But he's now entering a new arena.
"These are very different sections of the election season. The primaries are one thing, but now you're dealing with a much bigger electorate, a much larger stage."
One he's unlikely to leave willingly, no matter how little chance Wadhams gives him of earning another encore.