Got a call moments ago from Sean Duffy, spokesman for Scott McInnis' gubernatorial campaign, responding to a post about what I consider to be the candidate's two latest mistakes: complaining in writing about an impending Republican Party straw poll that he could well lose and then declining to attend the gathering at which the survey will take place. During the subsequent conversation, Duffy not only defended these moves, but he also discussed other perceived McInnis gaffes to date, including a website botch and a heated appearance on the KHOW talk show co-hosted by Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman. In addition, he contrasted criticism coming from the political blogosphere with the concerns of the average citizen.
"We're not saying this chatter is irrelevant," Duffy stresses. "But we'd be abjectly insane to live and die by the folks at Colorado Pols running weird pictures of Scott. That's important, but a lot of times, it can pull you off the fact that it's only August. Most people are focused on getting their kids back to school right now. There's .1 percent of us who are banging around about these things."
Nonetheless, Duffy believes "there is an extraordinary double standard" when it comes to coverage of McInnis. "We're not complaining about it," he hastens to add. "We know the hand we've been dealt, so we're not whining. We're just running."
Regarding the straw poll, Duffy says, "I can understand why people would wonder, 'Why would you write such a thing down?'" -- the "thing" in this case being McInnis' objection to the aforementioned straw poll. "But it's really important to explain in detail why we think this is a complete distraction."
Reason one: "It was put together by the guy who's now running our opponent's campaign." [That would be Mike Britt, campaign manager for Republican hopeful Josh Penry, who formerly worked for the state party.]
Reason two: "It really gets us off what should be our game, which is raising money and going to events and focusing on Bill Ritter."
Reason three: "It's sending the wrong message for the Party to go off to an elite resort for a weekend. People may get the sense that it's going to be like a scene in Animal House, and that strikes us as a complete waste of time when we should be concentrating on trying to beat an incumbent governor."
Okay, but why document these objections, thereby giving rivals the opportunity to portray McInnis as being mainly motivated by fear of losing the poll? "We felt that we needed to show respect for Dick Wadhams" -- head of the Republican Party in Colorado -- "by sending a formal rationale rather than just saying, 'Scott's not coming.'"
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As for that website error -- ScottMcInnisForGovernor.com briefly featured a Canadian mountain on its home page instead of one from the state he hopes to represent -- Duffy notes that the screw-up came courtesy of "an Internet vendor who no longer works for the campaign. Of course, it comes down to us. But every campaign does stuff where, gosh, you'd obviously like to take a mulligan. Unfortunately, our mulligan came on the very first hole."
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He doesn't use the same terminology when discussing the Caplis-and-Silverman visit, which found McInnis getting comically defensive about charges that he'd broken a pledge by not donating leftover 2004 campaign funds to breast-cancer research. Duffy dismisses it as a "kerfuffle," albeit one that he expects to be used against his guy. "We're not unrealistic," he maintains. "Down the road, we'll hear the Caplis interview on somebody's ad." Yet he believes this, too, is much ado about very little -- and he thinks it's been hyped by Democrats who see McInnis as a more formidable rival than Penry. "It's pretty clear the other team wants to run against Josh, not Scott," he says.
How to counter such attacks? By McInnis taking his message directly to the people. "Scott talked to the South Metro Chamber of Commerce a couple of weeks ago," Duffy allows, "and we went down there thinking people would be talking all about the Caplis thing. But what they really wanted to hear about were jobs and how to keep their small businesses going and what the heck Ritter is doing with unions. That was a pretty good lesson. If you jump in and out of Colorado Pols three or four times a day, you'd think everyone is fascinated by Caplis and so on. But when you get down into Arapahoe County and Douglas County and Jefferson County, people want to know, 'What are you going to do to fix the economy?' That's why, even though we play in both sandboxes, we're much more focused on the one outside -- the one that's not within five or six blocks of the Capitol."
Bottom line, Duffy wants voters to understand that McInnis isn't "a caricature drawn by Michael Huttner," the man behind the left-leaning organization ProgressNow Colorado. And the same goes for the campaign as a whole. Indeed, Duffy's confident enough about the direction the operation's going that he's able to joke about the way it's being portrayed. As he puts it, "We can tie our shoes and chew gum and do all sorts of things, all at the same time."
Note: The first draft of this blog stated that McInnis is running for the U.S. Senate, not the governership. I regret the brain fart.