Dan Maes's quiet hiring of new campaign manager, defense of Kansas cop firing story

The crazy whirlwind that is Republican nominee Dan Maes's guv run just keeps spinning faster. Below, spokesman Nate Strauch offers his take on four big stories: the hiring of new campaign manager George Culpepper, Maes's explanation for why he was fired as a Kansas cop, a new poll showing Maes trailing rival Tom Tancredo, and Maes's reported lack of money.

In a Tuesday conversation with Westword, Strauch teased the hiring of a new campaign manager, but there was no official press release even after the Denver Post reported the choice as George Culpepper, who'd earlier served in a similar capacity for former candidate Scott McInnis and also-ran Joe Gschwendtner.

This history led the snarksters at ColoradoPols to suggest that Culpepper has "got to be the only person in Colorado history who will have been directly involved with three failed campaigns for governor in the same election cycle. That's hard to do."

Here's Maes's very different take on Culpepper, from an e-mail statement he shared with select supporters:

George brings the practical, operational skill set needed to handle the day-to-day operations of all aspects of our campaign. He has worked on several statewide campaigns in this state and others. He has extensive political experience with various Republican organizations that will be advantageous to us as we move into the 4th quarter of our campaign. I am also impressed with his recognition of the importance of the conservative revolution; I could not have brought him on without that.

Why, though, was there no official announcement from the Maes camp? "Dan is focused on the issues right now," Strauch says. "The inner workings of the campaign are what they are, and Dan's very excited to add George to the team. But a press release would only distract him from the real issue right now, and that's the economy."

However, Maes did find the time to speak to the Associated Press about his mid-'80s firing as a police officer in Liberal, Kansas. He told Steven K. Paulson that he "he discovered evidence of what he believed was a gambling ring at the home of his then-girlfriend's parents. He informed his superiors in the police department, only to have the claims dismissed as a trivial at the time, he said."

A month later, the AP article continues, Maes was called to a meeting with a police captain and two representatives of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, where he offered them all the information he had and was advised to keep his eye on his girlfriend's family. But the following month, he was fired "for continuing to associate with possible criminals."

This narrative strikes plenty of people as loopy, including Westword's Alan Prendergast and KHOW talk-show host Peter Boyles, who spent much of today's show ridiculing it -- including a portion on which yours truly was a guest. But Strauch says none of that blowback has reached him.

"Peter Boyles hasn't been a friend of Dan Maes from the beginning," notes Strauch about the radio personality, who's been supporting his longtime friend Tancredo. "One has to take what he says about things with a grain of salt.

"Dan did the interview with the AP to clear the air," he goes on. "There was a lot of misinformation, and he wanted to get out his story. And the AP sent a reporter to Liberal and was able to confirm at least some of what Dan said" -- specifically, that a bookmaking investigation had been conducted back then, albeit one that never went anywhere and made no mention of Maes's participation.

As for the response to the piece, Strauch maintains that "the information we've seen from the grassroots side of things -- Dan's supporters, and people who used to support him and are coming back around -- has been very positive. It's what Dan has always said. When people hear his side of the story, they shake their heads and say, 'Okay, that makes sense.'"

At the same time, Strauch doesn't deny that Maes has been damaged by negative stories, which he blames for a Tuesday Rasmussen Reports poll showing him actually trailing Tancredo -- although both conservatives remained far behind Democratic frontrunner John Hickenlooper.

"No candidate could possibly have survived the onslaught Dan has undergone in the past couple of weeks without taking a hit in the polls," Strauch allows.

But he sees an upturn on the horizon.

"With the Denver Post having spent all their bullets, or what we think is all their bullets, we'd expect polling to rebound, and that the third-party candidate [Tancredo] would steadily decline," Strauch says.

The quickest way to make that happen would be to purchase TV time -- but at this point, Maes hasn't been able to afford television spots. Still, Strauch touts "continued strong fundraising despite what's been printed in the press and the polling numbers you're referencing. And assuming that continues on a forward path, we absolutely expect to be on TV."

Strauch believes Maes has "done really well" in the debates and public appearances in which he's participated to date. "He's obviously up against a seasoned politician [Hickenlooper], but the feedback we've gotten from old supporters and new supporters alike has been very positive. And he's improving every time."

Why? "Dan's been on the defensive for so long -- but now that all the stories have been written, we've turned the corner, and we're shifting into an offensive mindset. He's shifting to the issues he cares about, and taking on the mayor's stands on taxes and other issues. Now that we're in the debate season, the focus shifts to the issues, and that's the area he feels will be very favorable in comparison to the mayor."

In regard to Tancredo, Strauch says, "Tom's made this campaign about besmirching the name of Dan Maes, and that's something Dan is choosing to ignore. Tom's attacks on a fellow conservative are unfortunate, but to engage him doesn't do anything for the state of Colorado, and doesn't do anything to expose the mayor's record."

That's something Maes would love to do -- if he can get past all the other stuff that's been piling around him to date.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts