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Making Sense of Saturday

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Both Republicans and Democrats held their state party conventions on Saturday, but because the only real contested race worth mentioning happened on the Republican side (unless you count the CU Regent races, and I don’t), I won’t bother trying to recap the Democratic Party Convention.

The big race of the weekend, of course, involved the two Republicans running for governor: Bob Beauprez and Marc Holtzman. The story for most of the day centered around the huge delays in voting that resulted from delegates having to check and re-check their credentials, but when the votes were finally tallied late on Saturday night, Beauprez taken 72 percent of the votes compared to Holtzman’s 28 percent. While the battle between Beauprez and Holtzman may be causing a split in the Republican Party, as the Rocky Mountain News reported today, the big fissure from Saturday was the giant crack in Holtzman’s campaign.

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Because he failed to get 30 percent of the vote, Holtzman does not automatically make the primary ballot and must petition on instead. There’s little reason to think that Holtzman won’t submit the required number of signatures he needs to get his name on the ballot in August, but that’s not the problem. The big concern for the Holtzman campaign is that despite spending 18 months focusing almost entirely on Republican primary voters (including those who vote at the state convention), Holtzman couldn’t even pick up three out of every ten votes.

In other words, whatever it is that Holtzman is selling, Republicans ain’t buying.

Holtzman supporters will say that success (or failure) at the state convention doesn’t guarantee similar results in the August primary, and they are absolutely right. The most commonly-cited example is that of Democrat Mike Miles, who bested Ken Salazar at the 2004 Democratic State Convention in the race for the party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate. Miles then went on to get pummeled in the August primary by a nearly 4-to-1 margin. The same thing happened on the Republican side in 2004, though not to the same extreme, when Republican Bob Schaffer beat Pete Coors at the state convention and then lost in the primary a few months later. The difference here, however, is that the Miles-Salazar and Schaffer-Coors fights at the convention were relatively close; Holtzman didn’t just lose on Saturday, he was blown out.

While Holtzman has plenty of time to turn things around and win the primary in August, he may need a new campaign strategy to do it. He has been hammering away at his “reform the Republican Party” message for more than a year now, and it didn’t work at all among the Republican insiders who attend the state convention. Maybe that message will have a broader appeal in the August primary, when you get more voters who aren’t as closely tied to the state party, but it’s tough to see how Holtzman could get so little traction with his message at this stage and recover enough to win a primary in less than three months.

The fat lady may not be singing, but she’s entered the building.

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