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Dan Maes: Will he sink other Republicans or become an "embarrassing afterthought?"

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Yesterday, Dan Maes spokesman Nate Strauch confirmed that the Maes campaign fell over $400,000 short of its $500,000 fundraising goal on Friday -- and this after he raised just $14,000 during the previous reporting period. It's the latest setback for Maes -- and political consultant Eric Sondermann wonders if his performance will pull down other GOP hopefuls.

"That's the great unknown, which should become clear over the next month or so," says Sondermann, whose consulting firm is called SE2. "On the one hand, this may just be an idiosyncratic situation -- a debacle, if you will, in terms of a missed opportunity in the governor's race -- but not one that has any real effect beyond that. But the risk for Republicans is that somehow this becomes part of their brand, and that the effect of the gubernatorial debacle metastasizes down the ticket."

Sondermann's best guess? "If I was betting right now, I would bet more on the former -- that as October and November become closer, the focus goes to Ken Buck, to Cory Gardner, maybe to Ryan Frazier and Scott Tipton, to those congressional districts and to legislative candidates. And maybe Maes and the whole governor's race just becomes an embarrassing afterthought. But I wouldn't bet the house."

Given Maes's dearth of funds, is it possible that his campaign could starve to death?

"That implies he's had money and he's now on a starvation diet," Sondermann notes. "But he's always run a low-budget campaign, and I think that'll continue to be the case."

For this reason, "I don't see him as a viable candidate," he continues. "Not as long as Tom Tancredo is in the race. It seems like these people think it's the Olympics, where the silver medalist gets to stand on the stage and get an award. But in politics, there's no silver medal. There's only one winner. Maes and Tancredo seem locked in a contest for second place, and second place is meaningless."

The beneficiary of this Pyrrhic battle appears to be Democrat John Hickenlooper. Last month, Colorado Republican Party boss Dick Wadhams dubbed Hickenlooper the luckiest guy in the world, and Sondermann can't argue with that logic.

"Sometimes I've said 'luckiest SOB' instead of 'luckiest guy,'" he acknowledges. "But good grace continues to shine on him. I'm often tempted to shut down my business and retire from my job and basically spend life hanging out with him. Let's go to the grocery store and buy some lottery tickets! Let's go to Vegas! Luck does seem to follow him around."

What about complaints that Hickenlooper continues to cover up specifics about his charitable giving?

"That would only have legs in a competitive race -- a competitive race against a singular opponent," Sondermann believes. "Somebody could make hay with that -- an opponent with financing to put it on the air in an ad that asked, 'What's he hiding?' Republican 527 groups could do that, too. But Maes doesn't have the funding to make this an issue, and the 527s have long since folded up shop and don't have any interest in the governor's race. They're focusing on other races up and down the ballot.

"Reports will still ask about it here and there, but there's no consequences for Hickenlooper to continue doing the dance he's been doing. And unless and until Maes and Tancredo release tax returns, they're not in much of a position to make this an issue, given that Hickenlooper, while not revealing his charitable contributions, has at least released his tax returns."

Meanwhile, Republican Ken Buck continues to lead incumbent Senator Michael Bennet despite attacks on him like news conferences yesterday during which rape and incest survivors decried Buck's abortion policies. Is it simply too good a year for Republicans for Bennet to retain this seat?

"The only thing Bennet can do to win the race is to paint Buck as somehow outside the mainstream," Sondermann believes. "But Democrats in Colorado have tried that often against Wayne Allard and others, and it's never stuck. Colorado voters perceived the Allards of the world as being plenty conservative, but within the acceptable lines of conservatism."

Still, he goes on, "Trying to make Buck into a Sharon Angle of Nevada or a Rand Paul of Kentucky is the only viable strategy for Bennet, and one that's not completely implausible. But clearly, all the national tide works to Buck's advantage. At the end of the day, I think the Senate race becomes less a race between Ken Buck and Michael Bennet and more a race between a generic Republican and a generic Democrat. Bennet becomes a proxy of some combination of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and Buck becomes a proxy for whatever high-profile Republicans you want to list. They're placeholders for larger federal agendas."

If so, that definitely favors Buck -- no matter what's happening to Dan Maes.

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