By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
FORT COLLINS — Larimer County Republicans gathered at the lakeside home of Don and Dianne Shannon in a tony southwest suburb of Fort Collins to hear speeches from candidates, savor boiled shrimp and salivate over the news that next year’s state GOP Assembly will be held at the Budweiser Events Center in nearby Loveland.
From a red-white-and-blue-buntingdraped deck, state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams and Larimer County Party Chair Larry Carillo announced that the May 21-22, 2010 event to nominate statewide and congressional candidates would be held on incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey’s turf.
“We’re taking back the 4th Congressional District seat!” vowed Carillo.
The guests were welcomed by Matt Fries, who chaired this year’s “Flag Day Shrimp Boil” event. He also recalled pitching his campaign against Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, at last year’s county party shrimp fest.
“The speech contest loser got thrown in the lake last year,” said Fries. “I lost!”
“Almost every candidate asked tonight, what is that lake like?” chuckled former state Rep. Bob McCluskey.
Last summer, McCluskey was spared the dunking, but lost a second race against Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, in November.
“I’ve got my goggles and snorkel — I’m ready to swim!” declared Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.
Despite that preparation, Gardner vowed to keep his campaign for the 4th Congressional District speech short — and his clothes dry.
“I want to hear a big cheer for our country!” implored Gardner, and the crowd responded with thunderous applause and whoops.
Gardner said that it’s time to restore “fiscal sanity to Washington” so that his 5-year-old daughter — along with other children and grandchildren — can enjoy the quality of life he and listeners have known. Gardner was one of the few speakers who commanded the full attention of the crowd.
The Colorado Statesman
The GOP gagsters decided not to sacrifice a candidate to the shallow waters of Warren Lake this year.
Following a feast of shrimp, sausage, hot dogs, corn on the cob and potatoes — and a slew of political speeches — dessert was served. By dessert, we mean the treat every candidate and political activist eagerly awaited — the results of the straw poll.
In the Republican 4th CD contest, Gardner won 44 percent of the vote — outpacing former Fort Collins City Councilman Diggs Brown, who captured 34 percent, and University of Colorado Regent Tom Lucero, with 21 percent.
Gardner and Lucero pitched their candidacies to about 340 Republicans at the event. A life-sized cardboard cutout of Brown in a Green Beret uniform reminded folks that the hometown son is in the running — and plans to formalize his candidacy in November after a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Lucero, whose supporters donned Lucero for Congress campaign T-shirts, stressed his business background, telling Republicans that he has had to meet a payroll in the past and understands the problems facing small businesses, in particular.
Speaking on behalf of Diggs, Brian Ivers sounded like a drill sergeant, hammering his candidate’s assets — none greater than his military service for the country. Diggs, who served on the Fort Collins City Council from 2005 to 2008, is a member of the National Guard and a Marine Corps major who also served a seven-month stint in Afghanistan during 2002 and 2003.
“When it comes to national defense and keeping us safe, Diggs Brown doesn’t just talk the talk about foreign policy, he is foreign policy,” said Ivers, chairman of the Draft Brown for Congress campaign.
The results of the U.S. Senate poll delivered narrow winning margins to Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck and Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, both of whom worked the crowd and delivered speeches at the June 12 event.
Buck garnered 49 percent, Frazier 47 percent and Denver businessman Cleve Tidwell, 4 percent. No ballots were cast for Castle Rock businessman Mark Van Wyk, or potential candidates Bob Beauprez, former 7th District Congressman, and KHOW talk radio host and attorney Dan Caplis.
In the straw poll of 2010 governor candidates, former 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis received 39 percent, Sen. Josh Penry, of Grand Junction, 36 percent, and Evergreen businessman Dan Maes, 24 percent.
Underdog Maes’ showing was helped by the fact that he attended the lakeside dinner. McInnis and Penry missed the fun, but supporters stumped for their candidacies.
Candidates netting votes for the 2010 election at the shrimp fest included JJ Ament for state treasurer, and Scott Gessler for secretary of state. Gessler hinted that his Republican challenger, Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Nancy Doty, may decide to pull out of the race.
Doty, who did not attend the event, later said that she plans to make a decision in the fall.
“We wanted this to be a political event and family event,” said Carillo, gazing at the crowd dotted with toddlers bobbing on the laps of parents and even great-grandparents, boys skipping stones on the lakeshore and girls running and flying patriotic-colored balloons like kites.
Carillo said that 160 people registered for the $20-a-plate dinner, and another 180 showed up and paid $25 each. There was no charge for children 17 years and under.
“I hope I had something to do with the extra 180 people coming,” said Frazier, who had pitched the dinner during a morning radio interview in Fort Collins.
“This isn’t just a great turnout — it’s a Republican revolution!” exclaimed former state Rep. Mike Salaz, a former candidate for lieutenant governor.
Salaz added a new organization to his bio, which includes his 1990 graduation from the Republican Leadership Program.
“I’m a former member of the prison population,” he joked.
Overheard during photo ops:
• “Her reputation is at stake,” chuckled Wadhams posing with Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland.
“Mine? Or yours?” asked Nikkel. “No, yours!” asserted Wadhams.
Overheard at a dining table:
• “When I heard about this event, I asked, ‘A shrimp boil? Isn’t that what happened to us in November?’” quipped Wes Sargent.
Sargent is known as the “voice of the Rams” because he broadcasts the play-by-play football games of Colorado State University on radio. He and his wife, Trudy, have been active in Republican
politics for years, and also are stalwarts at the Greeley Stampede.
Overhead in the buffet line:
• “We knew two weeks ago that next year’s state assembly would be held in Loveland,” said Lora Larson, a member of the Larimer County GOP executive committee. “When it was announced that the state party was working on a contract with the Budweiser Events Center, we prayed and knew God would answer our prayers.”
Overheard under the beverage tent:
“I hid my designer brews under the Coors,” said a well-known Republican, digging through the bottles in a tub of ice on the lawn.
• “Have you seen the green and white, 4-by-8 foot signs posted on highways in southern Colorado?” asked former Rocky Ford Mayor Randy Hamilton. “The signs say, ‘Governor Ritter welcomes you to Taxorado!’”
Hamilton, whose businesses require frequent trips to Wyoming, was visiting his daughter, Fort Collins City Councilwoman Aislinn Kottwitz.