By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
It has been a long time coming, but the moment is nigh. Former state Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, says he’ll announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate within the next three weeks.
The announcement will end what may be one of the longest unconsummated candidacies in Colorado history.
Wiens — who has said all along that he’d make his official announcement in the late fall — says he’ll officially launch his campaign in the first week of November.
“It won’t be on Halloween!” the candidate-in-waiting declared with a chuckle. “We wanted everything in place — and we will hit the ground running! It gives us plenty of time to run for the U.S. Senate.”
Wiens anticipates raising as much as $8 million for his U.S. Senate bid.
“It’d be tough to beat my Rolodex. In fact, I’ll put my Rolodex up against those Washington insiders any day of the week,” said Wiens, who added that he has a 100-member campaign finance team.
“We’re prepared to put a half-million dollars into the campaign,” said Diana Wiens, who mused about the imminent campaign announcement during a reception last Friday at The Pinnacle Club hosted by the Leadership Program of the Rockies. She said she views the investment as start-up capital.
That chunk of change puts the former state senator in a league with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton, who raised more than $500,000 within 16 days of announcing her campaign on Sept. 15.
The field of Republican contenders narrowed to eight candidates this week when Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier decided to abandon his U.S. Senate bid and instead challenge incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter in the 7th Congressional District. Crested Butte attorney Luke Korkowski dropped out of the race the week before.
In addition to Norton, the crowded race for the GOP nomination still includes Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, retired businessman Cleve Tidwell, Vincent Martinez, of Denver, Gary Dean Kennedy, of Mancos, and Dr. Robert Greenheck, of Aurora.
The winner of the GOP nomination will face either incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet or former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff. Bennet has raised $3.6 million, including $1 million raised during the third quarter, and Romanoff garnered $292,000 in the three weeks following his campaign kickoff.
“I plan to put $500,000 into my campaign, too,” said Buck, “But it will be other people’s money — not mine. And you can quote me on that.”
Buck’s campaign may get a boost from Frazier pulling out of the race, but Wiens’ jump into the arena may turn the race back into a toss up. A straw poll of GOP activists last month in Keystone delivered Norton as the frontrunner. Trailing behind were Frazier and Buck, who, between them, took 55 percent of the votes cast by Republican activists attending a state GOP event. The poll was not scientific, but it indicated which candidates the party’s activists support.
A Buck campaign operative said they’re hoping to move all 55 percent of that split vote into their candidate’s column.
The Jane Norton campaign did not respond to requests for comments.
Wiens’ announcement will coincide with the launch of an expensive multimedia campaign including videos that will air on his super-sophisticated Web site and on YouTube. He also plans to hit the campaign trail with a tour of communities across Colorado.
The ultra-savvy approach bears the earmarks of Wiens’ new team, Republican pollster Frank Luntz and political consultant George Gorton. Luntz, Gorton and Don Simple were the top GOP guns who steered California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign in 2003.
Schwarzenegger was first elected in a special recall election to replace Gray Davis as California’s governor. He won election again in November 2006.
In true “Terminator” style, Schwarzenegger declared his candidacy in August 2003 on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.
Can Colorado voters expect to see rancher and businessman Wiens roping votes on Jay Leno’s new show?
Maybe not — but Wiens will lasso plenty of attention with Luntz, a well-known pollster who appears frequently on Fox television. Gorton, who is president of The California Group, steered former California Gov. Pete Wilson’s gubernatorial campaign in 1990 and his successful U.S. Senate campaigns in 1982 and 1988.
The duo has expertise in measuring and shaping public opinion and in motivating voters to cast their ballots.
Their strategy also calls for the campaign to utilize high-tech media, including the “the best Web site on the face of the Earth,” according to a source close to the campaign.
Weins’ campaign team also includes John Davis, a Republican political consultant from Tennessee who served as chief of staff to Sen. Connie Mack, R-Florida, and was a consultant on Wiens’ campaigns for state treasurer and Congress.
Wiens said camera crews have been filming him talking with potential constituents about his accomplishments during his tenure in the state Legislature and his goals for the U.S. Senate. He was elected to serve in the state House of Representatives in 2002 and to the Senate in 2004. Colorado’s Senate District 4 includes Douglas County and portions of Lake, Teller, El Paso and Park counties.
This week, the media team filmed cameos of several citizens for whom Wiens successfully carried legislation.
One interview was scheduled with Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan. Several years ago, Looper enlisted Wiens’ help during her battle against powerbrokers who aimed to ram a private toll road, the Front Range “Super Slab,” through her ranch and the property of the several of her neighbors.
In 2006, Wiens successfully passed Senate Bill 78 to protect Colorado private property rights. The bill prevented private toll road companies from using eminent domain powers to condemn and take land.
Other issues on Wiens’ agenda are expected to include protection of natural resources and the environment, balancing the federal budget, upholding the Second Amendment, tightening the borders and rolling back government regulations that hurt business.
“My goal is to stem the tide of things happening in Washington,” Wiens told The Colorado Statesman.
“They’re bailing out people at the top and bailing out people at the bottom. People in the middle are forgotten, but get stuck paying the tab,” he said, adding that the bill will be thrust on the children and grandchildren of today’s taxpayers.
Tom and Diana Wiens have four offspring — ages 18 to 27 — and one grandchild. When their youngest child was a high school senior last year, the couple decided to downsize. Their 1,620-acre ranch and luxurious home went on the market last year with a $38 million price tag, but it didn’t sell.
In fact, it was the site of a recent Douglas County GOP barbecue that featured statewide and local candidates. Among those attending — and speaking to the gathered party faithful — were Norton, Buck and Frazier. Aside from candidates, the guests were treated to beef brisket, chicken, spare ribs, beans, coleslaw and potato salad.
Wiens has been active in Republican politics for more than 30 years. He won the Republican nomination for state treasurer in 1978 but lost to Democrat and future governor Roy Romer in the general election. In 1982, Wiens ran unsuccessfully against 3rd District U.S. Rep. Ray Kogovsek, who won his second of three terms in Congress.
After talking with people around the state, Wiens said folks told him that they were fed up with Washington politicians who ignore their concerns.
“Coloradans are angry, and they have a right to be,” said Wiens in a letter to supporters. “They are working twice as hard for half the opportunity, and are worried more than ever about losing their jobs.”
Wiens said he aims to fight for the “forgotten Americans” — and he includes himself in that group.
“No matter how out of touch Washington is, I still believe that the United States can continue to be the greatest country in the world,” said Wiens.