Grassroots leader wants Tom Tancredo, Dan Maes to strategize about beating Hickenlooper

No doubt about it: Tea Party and 9.12 Project groups played a huge part in last night's primary wins by Ken Buck and Dan Maes. But as 9.12 Project Colorado Coalition chair Lu Busse basks in victory, she envisions a scenario in which Maes and Tom Tancredo could work together to defeat John Hickenlooper.

"You would think people could have a civil conversation about how that could work," Busse says. "Because I can't imagine anyone on the conservative side of the aisle wanting our governor to be Mayor Hickenlooper."

Not every Liberty Movement favorite won during last night's primaries. For instance, Busse points out that John Boehler fell to Ellen Roberts in the Durango-area 6th District state senate contest. But in the much-watched governor and senate races, Tea Party/9.12 Project faves Buck and Maes bested establishment candidates Jane Norton and Scott McInnis, respectively. And Busse knows that her fellow believers played a big part in that.

"There was a lot of grassroots involvement, and it's beyond the Tea Party and 9.12 Project and other groups that bubbled up last January and February," she says. "It's the newly awakened voters, especially here in Colorado, who are demanding to know more about their candidates and who they are. And on the conservative side of the aisle, they seem to have had a greater impact on the decisions about the major candidates. It was nice to see that people's efforts, and people's volunteerism, trumped the money in some big races."

Not that Republican Party long-timers have completely given up on the notion that cash can cure all. Right now, GOP types aghast at the prospect of Dan Maes as the party's guv nominee are looking for an alternative, with Re/Max moneybags Dave Liniger's name currently making the rounds. But Busse believes nothing Liniger does would convince Maes to drop out.

"How is he saying he'll do that? Offer him a job?" she asks with a laugh. "Isn't that like the pay-not-to-play scandal, as I call it?" -- a reference to reports that the White House floated administration gigs past Andrew Romanoff in the hope that he might be convinced not to take on Michael Bennet in the Democratic Senate race (which Bennet won).

More seriously, Busse notes, "When I saw Mr. Maes last night, I didn't think anybody would be talking him out of the race soon. In fact, he called on Tom Tancredo to get out of the race and help unite conservatives to beat Mayor Hickenlooper."

As for potential machinations to choose another Republican candidate for governor, Busse says, "You would think that after all the things that have happened, especially in the governor's race, that the establishment, the political elite class, especially on the Republican side, would have some idea that the smoke-filled backroom deals aren't working well. People keep going around them, telling them this isn't the way we're going to do these things anymore.

"Look at the caucus. They were totally surprised when Dan got 40 percent of the vote -- and then he got sixteen or seventeen more votes than Scott McInnis at the state assembly. They were still touting that McInnis was going to win last night, and Dan won by over 5,000 votes. Every time they put in obstacle in front of Dan, he went around it -- and it wasn't just Dan getting around it. It was the people, the volunteers getting around those obstacles."

Indeed, Busse takes most pride in the massive turnout for the primaries. "We've gotten our neighbors, our friends, our family members awakened to the system, and from a 9.12 Project point of view, we feel that an informed, activated electorate will make all the difference. If you don't like the candidates, or you don't like who's in office, you don't have anybody to blame but yourself, for not being involved in the system. And we believe that with the correct information, voters can make good choices."

Busse would like Maes and Tom Tancredo to make good choices as well.

"We hope Dan can seriously talk to Tom Tancredo about not splitting the vote," she says. "I've forgotten which poll, but one of them showed that in a three-way race, it was Dan Maes with 27 percent, Tom Tancredo with 24 percent, and the remainder going to Mayor Hickenlooper. And if you add 27 and 24 percent, that comes out to 51 percent. So however that works out -- whichever one supports the other -- what happens is, we beat Mayor Hickenlooper by two percentage points."

Unlike Colorado GOP boss Dick Wadhams, who believes Dan Maes can't win in a three-way race, Busse thinks there's a slim chance that Maes could still emerge victorious in such a scenario -- if Hickenlooper is held to 35 percent and Tancredo gets just 25 percent, for instance. But she concedes that it remains "a daunting task" that would be much simpler to accomplish if one major conservative was in the running as opposed to two.

In the meantime, Busse sees the defeats of Jane Norton and Scott McInnis as a lesson for future office-seekers.

"This is something both Ms. Norton and Mr. McInnis failed to understand, even though I tried to tell both of them early on: For voters now, it's not the same dynamic as they were used to from previous political races. Today, the voters are absolutely demanding that they get to know the candidates, and it can't be from a podium, and it can't be from an ad. They want to meet you, they want to speak to you, they want to get a feel for you, because there have been so many people in office who've disappointed them. And neither of those candidates spent the time with the grassroots that their opponents did."

Those voters are paying attention to issues and candidates alike, she adds.

"When they get together, they talk about issues like the Clear the Bench Colorado," which opposes the retention of several justices on the Colorado Supreme Court, "they talk about the health-care initiative by Jon Caldara, they talk about ballot amendments 60, 61 and Prop. 101. People are just fed up with the way it is -- and it's not just the Democrats. It's the establishment of those who've been in power for quite a while.

"We need new blood," Busse concludes -- and based on last night, there's a good chance she's going to get a lot of it.

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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