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The wheels came off Marc Holtzman's campaign for governor late yesterday afternoon, when Colorado Secretary of State Gigi Dennis threw out almost half the signatures Holtzman had submitted in an effort to petition his way onto the GOP primary ballot. But don't rule him out yet.

Holtzman, the former University of Denver president and investment banker who'd traveled the state by RV seeking to woo hardcore conservatives, had earned the wrath of party leaders by taking shots at the anointed Republican candidate, Congressman Bob Beauprez ("Clowns to the Left of Me," May 18). Pressure has been building for Holtzman to drop out of the race, since he secured only 28 percent of the delegate votes at the state Republican convention May 20. Holtzman responded by turning in more than 21,000 petition signatures to the secretary of state — many of which she declared invalid.

A few hours earlier, an administrative judge ruled that Holtzman had violated campaign-finance laws by his involvement in the campaign against Referendum C last fall, fining him $4,000. The measure, which allows the state to keep tax rebates, narrowly passed, but Holtzman's crusade against it raised his profile as a candidate.

With the Holtzman bus now in the breakdown lane, pundits are already handicapping a one-on-one battle between Beauprez and the sole Democratic contender, former Denver district attorney Bill Ritter. But the ever-combative Holtzman vows to be back on the trail posthaste.

"This is just one more effort by the establishment to derail my campaign, but it's not going to work," he says. "This thing smacks of politics. It's an outrage, and we're going to fight like crazy."

To petition his way on the ballot, Holtzman was required to come up with 10,500 signatures of registered Republicans, including 1,500 in each of the state's seven congressional districts. Dennis's office rejected 4,980 signatures as invalid and declared that another 4,239 signatures couldn't be matched with registered voters in any known congressional district. As a result, Holtzman's bid fell short in two districts, including Beauprez's own, the seventh.

Holtzman says an employee in his office who used to work for the secretary of state's office verified every signature. The SOS data is "out of date," he insists, speculating that many of the invalidations resulted from not recognizing that some petition circulators had only recently registered as Republicans. "The seventh district is where we submitted the most signatures of all," he says. "We are absolutely fine."

The Holtzman legal team, including Democrat Mark Grueskin and Republican John Head (who led the successful fight to put U.S. Senate candidate Mary Estill Buchanan back on the ballot 26 years ago), is now wrangling over the numbers. And Holtzman has harsh words for Dennis, a Beauprez supporter who's been mentioned as a possible running mate for the candidate Holtzman calls "Both Ways Bob."

"At they very least, she should have recused herself from the process," Holtzman fumes. "She personally leaked [the news] to every possible political person in the state yesterday before we were officially advised of the problem."

SOS spokeswoman Dana Williams says there's no law that allows Dennis to recuse herself from the petition review process; however, Dennis has asked her deputy secretary, William Hobbs, to conduct any protest hearing Holtzman may request. The primary issue at this point isn't the petition circulators, William adds, but the signatures themselves: "Most of the people rejected are not registered Republican voters."

At coloradopols.com, the blog for political addicts, Beauprez boosters were already treating Holtzman as roadkill. "Welcome to Waterloo, little fella," wrote one. "We can all rejoice that the malignant tumor has been cut out of the Republican party," added another. Beauprez issued a statement urging Holtzman to work with him to defeat Ritter.

But Holtzman isn't ready to walk away. "If necessary, this will go to the state supreme court," he says. "We are in this race to the end." — Alan Prendergast

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