There is no more scary word for a politician than the word “crater.” When a campaign starts to “crater,” it means that everything is falling apart and you are on your way to reaching a depth from which you will not recover. Even if you improve once you’ve cratered, you’re still sunk. If you’re campaign has cratered, your best hope is to do well enough to not get blown out too badly at the polls.

After a terrible couple of weeks for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, culminating with the news yesterday of his assinine statement that “70 percent of African-American women have abortions,” it’s time to start wondering if Beauprez’s campaign is starting to crater.

Everything Beauprez says comes out wrong, and every new poll shows him further and further behind Democrat Bill Ritter. One of the surest signs that your campaign has begun to crater is when people start expecting you to screw up, and Beauprez is at that point. It’s hard to even be surprised anymore when something stupid comes out of his mouth. His “Both Ways Bob” nickname has become commonplace, and he only feeds the idea every time he refutes a past statement of his own. Ritter has been raising more money than Beauprez for months, and he’s already bought a huge chunk of television advertising space while Beauprez still searches for a message.

But the most obvious sign that your campaign has begun to crater is when nobody refutes the idea anymore. Everyone I talk to — both Democrats and Republicans — says the same thing: Ritter is going to win this race easily. Even if it is merely a myth, it is a myth that has been generally accepted. When you talk about the governor’s race now, you don’t hear people say, “Yeah, but wait until Beauprez does this,” or, “Well, there’s still plenty of time…” No. Now people just nod and agree that this may not be much of a race anymore.

The strange thing here is that this could have happened at all. By most accounts, Beauprez was the best Republican candidate for governor that the party could have produced in 2006. He is a two-term congressman who serves on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He has the support of the big power brokers and money people in the Republican party. He dispatched Republican challenger Marc Holtzman, and then…nothing. Beauprez stopped raising much money, and he never started talking about a message. Over the last two months, he’s looked lost and confused, as though he expected people to support him because — dammit! — he’s Bob Beauprez. In fact, that seems to be his message in a nutshell: “Vote for Bob Beauprez, Because He’s Bob Beauprez.”

In debates, Beauprez comes off as sounding silly and unprepared. He told a group a few weeks ago that he didn’t think Referendum C was necessary because he “would have found the money somewhere.” It wasn’t that the state was broke — we just didn’t look hard enough for that big hidden pile of money.

In another debate, he told the crowd that he was more qualified to be governor because of his business background. “I’ve sold stuff,” he said. Seriously. That’s what he said.

Then yesterday came word about his “70 percent of African-American women have abortions” statement. He later apologized for not getting the statistic correct, apparently oblivious to the point that he sounded like a racist boob — whether he had the right number or not.

Beauprez just sounds like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, or even what he should be doing. He looks like the popular jock in school who can’t understand why all of the kids aren’t voting for him for prom king, because isn’t the popular jock supposed to be prom king? He’s been running around the state waiting for governor to happen to him. Well, it isn’t happening to him, and now he’s starting to become a joke. Rollie Heath became a joke by mid-August when he ran against Bill Owens in 2002. When too many people start repeating the line, “He can’t win,” then it starts to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perception is reality in politics, and the perception is becoming dark for Beauprez.

Beauprez campaign staffers are now being overheard talking about how Holtzman really damaged Beauprez’s campaign. They may be correct, but it sounds a lot like a rationale for something. When your supporters are drafting up an explanation for your loss two months before the election even happens, you’re on the road to craterville.

All is not completely lost for Beauprez. He has about three weeks to recover and pick up momentum to get back in the race, but he’s really sliding downhill now. He hasn’t cratered, but he’s definitely cratering. In other words, he’s not done yet — but he’s standing right there on the precipice.