April 16 2009, 12:16 PM
At the Douglas County Republicans' annual Lincoln Day dinner last month, many of the Colorado Republican Party's current political A-listers and up-and-comers mingled in the large atrium of the Wildlife Experience in Parker making small talk. Cleve Tidwell was making conversation, too. But interspersed with the usual banter about current events, family, and future political plans, Tidwell casually mentions activities most wouldn't expect of a novice U.S. Senate candidate--such as his recent meeting with the vice president of Honduras, where up until two years ago he was managing director of a coffee plantation.Â Cleve (his given name; not an abbreviation) is one of the most interesting candidates for U.S. Senate in Colorado, even if he's not one of the most likely to win. With a Lyndon Johnson-esque drawl and swagger, and a passing resemblance to Joe Biden (in looks if not in politics), the 62-year-old Georgia native has already been crisscrossing the state, introducing himself to Republicans and planning his campaign. Even though the Republican race for U.S. Senate is still wide open, Tidwell--who plans to formally jump in the race later this year--faces an uphill battle. But ask Tidwell why he wants to enter politics, and he becomes quite earnest. In particular, he presses his opposition to President Obama's bailout plan--especially the part involving the federal government dictating to banks and the auto industry about how to operate. "What really got me off the couch is when I realized that the government thought that they could run a business or businesses much better than we could," Tidwell says. "And that didn't sit right with me." Tidwell also has a libertarian stance on social issues--he personally opposes gay marriage and abortion, but he says those issues should be left up to individual states to decide. But it's Tidwell's experience on foreign policy that's most intriguing. As a business consultant for Fortune 500 company Textron, Tidwell has visited (by his count) at least 15-20 countries, talking with business and political leaders. He was reluctant to talk about his relationship with the Honduran vice-president, Elvin Ernesto Santos, but he saysÂ he "was in and out with a lot of places with a lot of key people, and made a lot of wonderful friends and good relationships (that) I think will allow me to step into a Senate position." He's much more excited to talk about his impressions fromÂ meeting regular people in other countries. "I'll go into places a lot of people don't want to go, and as I would talk to people along the way--kids particularly--you know, and they find out you're from America, they wanna come up and touch you. They just think something's gonna rub off on them," he says. "They've got such great feelings and beliefs and hope and all that we bring, and as I see, a little bit of that may be starting to diminish. "It just really touched me. It's an emotional thing for me, and I don't tell many people that," he continues. "I really want to stand up and fight for it." Tidwell's own life story has a bit of the American dream in it. He grew up poor in rural Georgia, southwest of Atlanta. His first job, at age 15, was in the local cotton mill. "I hope you never have to experience (working there)," Tidwell says. "It was the hardest work I ever did in my life. But it was a good experience. It made me realize, I think, if I would really work at it, I wouldn't have to be in a cotton mill." After spending time in Japan (where he was president of Money CafÃ© USA, Inc., an international financial planning firm), Tidwell moved to Colorado in 2003 with the intention of focusing on fishing and his golf game. But instead, he's now planning to tour Colorado listening to voters and picking up support. "We wanna find out what's on people's minds--what's their issues, what's their concerns," he says.