"I want to keep the values we had," says Rich Mancuso, who's seeking to succeed U.S. Representative Ken Buck as the head of the Colorado Republican Party; the vote takes place on March 27. "But we also need to reach out to the new people moving here and explain why Colorado is so special and how we've conserved the state over the years."
Originally from New York's Staten Island, Mancuso attended college at Winona State in Minnesota before being sent to Colorado by Uncle Sam in October 1968. "I was part of a MASH unit, and we were stationed at Fitzsimons," he recalls. "I was in charge of the psychiatric ward for a couple of years." After leaving the military, he worked in a variety of business roles (stockbroker, financial planner, even the owner of a limousine service), mostly in Colorado. In addition, he taught for thirteen years at D'Evelyn, a junior and senior high in Jefferson County — a stint he looks back on with great fondness.
Mancuso also managed to squeeze politics into this busy schedule. His most prominent previous run as a candidate took place way back in 2006, when he was the Republican nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives seat then held by Mark Udall. But he's been active in Colorado Republican Party politics for decades. "I've worked on a lot of campaigns," he notes. "I worked for Hank Brown, Bill Armstrong, Tom Tancredo. I was campaign manager for a few smaller campaigns in Jefferson County and had every voluntary position you can possibly have — precinct captain and all the way up. I've walked a lot of miles, knocked on a lot of doors."
Today Mancuso is officially retired, but he remains busy. In 2016 he published a book titled The Good Don, and he's in the midst of penning another one. "I wasn't looking to run," he says of his Colorado GOP bid. "I was approached by some people who were frustrated by having two mainstream candidates, and I decided to give it a shot." Those "mainstream candidates" are former Colorado secretary of state Scott Gessler and current state party vice chair Kristi Burton Brown; Casper Stockham and Jonathan Lockwood are also running.
"The unfortunate thing with the state party is that we've been running it like a government entity — and whether you're on the left or the right of the spectrum, government isn't the most effective means of accomplishing anything," Mancuso explains. "I want to see the foot soldiers and hard workers in the Republican Party being represented instead of the special interests."
He points out that Colorado's Republican Party has been shrinking in recent years even as those registering as unaffiliated has grown — "and I think most of the unaffiliateds are frustrated Republicans," he says. "We need to bring those people back."
Why have so many abandoned the Republican ship? Mancuso thinks infighting is a major reason. "I believe in Ronald Reagan's eleventh commandment, which is that it's okay to have a bloodbath behind the scenes, but when we're done, we need to have a united front," he says. Likewise, he finds outreach to non-traditional Republican demographics lacking: "We should be the message of the Hispanic and Black communities, but we've dropped that ball. I don't think we've got people with the guts to go to them and say, 'Your values align with our values.' They seem to think people are going to join the party by osmosis, and it's just not going to happen."
In Mancuso's view, too much has been made of the alleged split between old-school Colorado Republicans and those who have pledged their allegiance more to former president Donald Trump than to the party's principles. He sees himself as an example of what having an open mind can do. "When I saw Trump come down that escalator" prior to his announcement about running for the 2016 presidency, "I said, 'Oh, my God, I hope he doesn't get elected.' I was a Rubio or Cruz guy, and I thought he was nothing but a Democrat from New York who was going to destroy the party from within," Mancuso recalls. "But he proved me wrong. He turned out to be one of the better presidents we've had in a number of years. He got a lot of bills and legislation passed that helped businesses and industry and minorities, and he protected our borders for four years — and he simplified government, which is just too complex. I think he did a lot of good."
He's also on Trump's side when it comes to the 2020 vote. "I believe the election was stolen — period, end of statement," he says. "Do I have any proof? The answer's no. Am I responsible for investigating? That answer is no, too. It should be up to the FBI and the attorney generals in states where they believe there was corruption."
At the same time, though, he doesn't want the Colorado Republican Party to become too obsessed with the past. "My analogy is that when I'm driving, there's a big windshield in front of me, and I spend 90 to 95 percent of the time looking ahead," he explains. "There's also a rearview mirror that I look at 5 or 10 percent of the time. So we do have to look back every once in a while. But let's focus on what's in front of us."
Click here for more information about the March 27 meeting of the Colorado Republican State Central Committee, at which a new chair will be chosen.