The Elephants in the Room

This month, as Coloradans select the new governor, the GOP is beginning to assess the spectacularly awful Scott McInnis campaign and ask itself: What happened? And what next?

November 2010

What in the world were McInnis and his team thinking? Being inside the campaign, or as inside as a member of the press could be inside the McInnis campaign, was to witness a surreal disconnect. Like all political campaigns, this camp had its share of strategists, donors, and spin doctors, yet this machine was particularly controlled. I was able to accompany McInnis on the campaign trail only after weeks of persistent requests. And even then the spokesman, Duffy, said if I went on the road with McInnis I’d need to remain in my own car and follow the candidate’s white Ford Explorer from one place to the next. No one outside the campaign, I was told, was allowed on the “bus.” After a couple of whistle-stops, however, McInnis waved me into the SUV.

Passing fields on the Eastern Plains, he reminisced about growing up the son of a Glenwood Springs shopkeeper. As a boy, he swept the shop’s floors. He got piggy banks on birthdays. He talked about his time as a Glenwood Springs cop. He became animated talking about budget shortfalls and used a paper plate to diagram the state budget. “Forty-four percent of the general-fund budget is mandated spending and voter-protected for K through 12,” he said, scribbling. “What do we squeeze?”

McInnis was the one being squeezed, in the media, over $300,000 worth of plagiarism. As the “Musings on Water” scandal broke, to ask the McInnis team about it was like being in the twilight zone. Josh Penry, the McInnis protégé and former gubernatorial candidate some considered a possible stand-in if the scandal-plagued McInnis bailed, by then had become a McInnis adviser. Penry ignored my calls. In response to e-mailed questions, he sent a terse message saying he thought he’d already answered my questions. Yes, I wrote, but things had changed. To which Penry replied only with: “Something’s changed?”

In the midst of the media coverage of the scandal, David McReynolds, one of McInnis’ campaign finance co-chairs, told me, “I still think he’s the best man for the job.” Wasn’t McReynolds perturbed by the fact that his man had plagiarized the writings of a state Supreme Court justice and was paid $300,000 for it? “It’s very concerning,” McReynolds said. However, McReynolds seemed more concerned about the campaign’s crisis management, or rather lack thereof. “I think it was sloppy, on his part, the way it was handled.”

Communications director Duffy answered the phone mid-disaster with a cheerful, “Hey buddy!” Almost immediately he said, “He’s not getting out. He’s still the guy to beat the mayor.” Duffy insisted that McInnis had told the Hasans that he was using a research assistant, meaning “assistant” Fischer, which was a claim the Hasans disputed. Duffy assured me that McInnis had records showing how much he paid Fischer.

Me: “When can I see those?”

Duffy: “He’s not disclosing those. I asked him [McInnis] to make those public and he said no; that it was ‘private between [him] and Rolly.’ ”

Me: “This must be one of your favorite campaigns?”

Duffy: “You get lemons, and you try to make ’em lemonade.”