Josh Penry on taking over as Jane Norton's campaign manager

In an interview last week, Ken Buck campaign consultant Walt Klein said he thinks Jane Norton, the well-heeled frontrunner for the Republican senatorial nomination, is running scared.

Shockingly enough, Josh Penry, the minority leader of the Colorado Senate and former gubernatorial candidate, who's just agreed to take over as Norton's campaign manager, sees things differently. However, he confirms that any running Norton does in the future will be toward her goal of getting elected, not away from Buck or any other challenger.

"Jane's ready to go on the offensive," he says.

According to Penry, the idea of him taking over as campaign manager from Norm Cummings, who will now serve as a consultant, grew out of "a few conversations over the span of a couple of weeks that were less focused on leadership changes and more focused on how to win an election. The subject came up in the natural ebb and flow of the conversation. We met again on Monday, and we came to an agreement over a handshake, as two Western Slopers are known to do."

Penry's advice to Norton then and now is to start bringing the heat. "Jane's had about a million dollars in third-party money land squarely on her name," he says -- much of it from South Carolina Senator (and Tea Party hero) Jim DeMint, a Buck supporter who's reportedly bankrolling an ad campaign on the Weld County district attorney's behalf to the tune of $600,000. "She knows she needs to fight back, and she knows that part of my m.o. is to engage the fight -- to draw contact and fight back."

The managerial switch was made only days after Norton announced that she was going to opt out of the convention process and petition her way onto the primary ballot -- a move that earned brickbats from Buck consultant Klein, who said the following about the shift in the blog linked above:

"I've been at many events where Jane was praising the heck out of party activists and telling them how important they are. And now, with the events of the last two or three weeks, she's now decided they aren't important after all.

"I don't think anybody bought the baloney about what a masterful stroke of political strategy it was to give up on the caucus and convention process. Everybody knows why she's doing this, which is that she hasn't been able to build the base she was told in September that she could build."

"That's clever spin from Walt," Penry replies, noting that Mike Coffman, Doug Lamborn and Tom Tancredo all petitioned their way onto primary ballots and went on to victory. But he concedes that "the decision to petition has been controversial" prior to making it clear that Norton loves those Republican Party insiders after all.

"To win, you need a couple of things," he says. "You need a lot of money and you need the grassroots -- those true-believing activists. We're going to build the campaign that way. And bottom line, the activists are smart enough to know that Jane made the choice because it's the best way to win this election.

"We want to focus on who's the best person for the job, and that's Jane," he continues. "She's the only candidate beating Michael Bennet by a wide margin according to all objective analysis. Now, there's no question that Ken has had a good couple of weeks. He has. So Jane has to raise the level of her game. And one of the good things about primaries is they make you stronger, make you better. She knows she needs to engage Ken and the rest of the good old boys, and she's going to."

How will Penry manage to oversee this thrust and parry while playing a leadership role in the state senate? "We've only got three weeks left in the session, and after that, I'll essentially be over there a whole lot. And we've also brought in Rich Beeson, a longtime Colorado campaign guru who most recently worked in Massachusetts for Scott Brown," the Republican who shocked the political world by winning Ted Kennedy's old seat.

And there's more to come. "I think you're going to see a number of fairly significant moves that will give Jane the campaign infrastructure she needs," Penry says, "so that she can just be Jane and focus on making her case to the voters."

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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