Colorado Republicans Focus on "Rebuilding," But Old Troubles Loom Over 2010

March 2009
The most prominent headlines to come from this weekend's biennial state Republican Party meeting have to do with Dick Wadhams being overwhelmingly re-elected party chair. But the party faithful weren't focused on Wadhams. During Friday night's dinner at the Denver Marriott South, the state's 750-or-so leading Republicans monitored (and overanalyzed) the actions of next year's likely candidates for governor and U.S. Senate. Who seemed to be working the tables? (Answer: likely U.S. Senate candidate Ryan Frazier, probable gubernatorial candidates Scott McInnis and Josh Penry, and anticipated Fourth Congressional District candidate Cory Gardner and his wife, among others.) And why did Scott McInnis choose to withdraw his name from the list of after-dinner speakers? (Humanity may never fully learn the true story.) To play on the evening's theme of rebuilding, small yellow construction hats (made in China) were set on each table to remind diners that the primary focus of the Colorado Republican Party now is to stop losing. Local Republicans are currently at their lowest point since the Great Depression: Democrats hold the governorship, the state House and Senate, both U.S. Senate seats, five of seven U.S. House seats, and every other statewide office except for attorney general. Last November, Barack Obama easily won the state's nine electoral votes--only the third time Colorado has gone blue in a presidential election since 1948. Over the weekend, a slew of speakers offered up their ideas for how Colorado Republicans can recover. Common themes included refocusing on the party's ideals (which have allegedly been forgotten by Republican politicians the past few years), reaching out to young voters and activists, bringing in much-needed cash, and--as several speakers eagerly encouraged--harnessing the power of Twitter and Facebook for Republican ends. "I'm tired of hearing the same old arguments. I'm tired of hearing the complaining," complained Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele in Friday's keynote address. It was Steele's first public appearance since a series of verbal gaffes that angered Republicans--such as calling Rush Limbaugh's talk-radio show "incendiary" and "ugly" and saying that abortion is "an individual choice" best left to individual states to decide. But even as Republicans did their best to bring their party together this weekend, trouble may be brewing on the horizon. The Republican primary race for governor is shaping up to be a showdown between McInnis and Penry. And as one Republican blogger puts it, the two Western Slopers could "end up causing one of the most uncomfortable and acrimonious primaries that the state has ever seen." "Uncomfortable" and "acrimonious" certainly describe the last Republican primaries for governor (2006) and U.S. Senate (2004)--just ask Governor Bill Ritter and Senator-turned-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar how those races turned out for the GOP on Election Day. Throw in a wide-open battle for the 2010 Republican U.S. Senate nomination, and next spring could see Republicans again hurling attacks--and bundles of campaign cash--at each other. Maybe those Chinese hard hats will come in handy, after all.