By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
In the year of outsider versus insider political candidates, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes credited his primary win over former 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis to God and faithful grassroots voters — and criticized unnamed GOP bosses for conspiring to manipulate him out of the race.
“This campaign was not conceived in a smoke-filled room at the Brown Palace hotel — nor was it conceived by the powerbrokers in the Republican Party,” declared Maes.
“This campaign began in your backyards, in your libraries, in your churches, in your schools and every backyard barbecue that I could attend,” Maes told more than 100 supporters gathered at the Lodo’s Bar and Grill on election night.
“This was not set up by the party kingmakers or big money donators,” Maes said defiantly.
“It was about you saying we want candidates who will not only act like Republicans when they campaign, but they will do it after they’re elected as well,” he said. “What a novel concept that would be!”
The crowd whistled, cheered and clapped in agreement.
Maes said for a guy who was born on the wrong side of the tracks, winning the primary is “a testament that the American dream is alive and well in Colorado.”
Befitting the candidate who is called “Superman” by his family, Maes chose “Holding out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler as his campaign theme song.
“Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?
“Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?
“Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
“Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need.
“I need a hero…”
A sample of the lyrics says volumes about Maes’ belief that he can beat Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper — even though polls indicate Maes and American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo will split conservative votes and deliver victory to the Denver Mayor.
The candidate called for Republicans to unite behind his campaign and commanded former 6th District Congressman Tancredo to drop out of the race.
“There’s an 800-pound gorilla in the back of the room that we must address — Mr. Tancredo, stop your campaign!” declared Maes.
“We — all of us — can beat the Democrats. (Tancredo’s) involvement in this race makes that task exponentially more difficult. I am asking you to end your race and help us beat the Democrats in November,” implored Maes.
Tancredo shot back a “drop out” message to Maes on the KHOW Caplis & Silverman talk radio show on Wednesday.
“I think Dan is really the third party candidate right now. And so probably he should get out,” said Tancredo with a chuckle.
“(Maes) cannot win,” declared Tancredo. “It doesn’t matter if I run or I don’t. Dan Maes cannot win the election.”
“That’s the situation the Republicans have put themselves in — not me. I did not do this to them,” said Tancredo. “It’s not my fault.”
He said the GOP is like the Titanic chugging toward an iceberg — and ultimate disaster.
If so, the Republican ship showed stress cracks on Tuesday night. Divisions between party “insiders” and “outsiders” were evident at the election night parties to toast the candidates.
Maes supporters, mostly wearing the campaign red t-shirts, were largely “tea party” and “9-12 Project” activists, family and friends. There were few, if any, elected officials in sight.
The McInnis campaign fete at The Stampede restaurant in Aurora drew several hundred Republicans, including some state legislators and county party leaders. At times it was loud, but the candidate himself bade supporters to leave before final results had been tabulated.
The following day, it was eerily silent. Other than McInnis, there were no press releases or public endorsements of Maes from well known Republican leaders and elected officials.
State GOP Chair Dick Wadhams and McInnis each called to congratulate Maes. “I gave Dan the same advice I gave when he was thinking of running,” said Wadhams.
The state GOP chair reeled off a list that included raising funds, hiring a professional campaign staff and working closely with the state party’s Victory operation, a massive get-out-the-vote drive.
Wadhams said that he admired the fact that Maes came out of nowhere to win top line on the primary ballot at the state party assembly and then win the election.
“I told him that the passion and energy that he and his supporters brought to the primary campaign infused great enthusiasm and optimism into the political race,” said McInnis in a statement.
“I also told him that since he is now the Republican nominee, I stand with him,” said McInnis, who weeks ago vowed to support the primary winner.
“I am firmly convinced that Colorado taxpayers and citizens can’t afford a repeat of the four years of bigger government, higher taxes and anti-jobs policies. That the Denver Mayor — a nice man with a flawed vision — will pursue this Democrat agenda is indisputable,” said McInnis.
“I very respectfully ask my supporters, as well as those who backed Dan Maes and (those who) are considering backing Tom Tancredo to come together quickly around the basic, bedrock ideas that unite us as Republicans,” said McInnis. “The stakes for Colorado are too great for the focus to be on anything but what is best for the state we love.”
Maes said that McInnis had been gracious in congratulating the candidate’s “historic victory.”
“Although we’ve had our differences, Scott’s been a very cordial opponent, and in defeat he remained courteous and resolved for a Republican victory in November,” said Maes in a statement.
“Much of my conversation with Dick was private, but suffice it to say he was congratulatory, complimentary of our hard work, and very willing to work together,” said Maes.
Maes ran a low budget, fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants campaign; however, his county-by-county victories looked like a page out of a political strategist’s playbook. In the statewide vote, Maes beat McInnis, 196,560 to 191,209 or 51 percent to 49 percent.
Of the top ten turfs targeted for Republican candidate victories, Maes captured Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld counties. McInnis won Denver, Pueblo and Mesa counties; the latter was expected because Grand Junction is his hometown.
“When you get the party machine out of the way and the media out of the way, the people’s voice is heard,” Maes said.
The Evergreen businessman hammered the party bosses from the start of his campaign through his victory speech on Tuesday. He had accused the powerbrokers of backing McInnis — and then conspiring to force the primary win out of the race and putting in a replacement candidate.
Wadhams said the party officers are not involved in any scheme to replace Maes, but rumors persist.
Maes said he will not drop out. He also has no plan to temper his conservative campaign message. In a year of conventional political wisdom, both liberal and conservative candidates would edge toward the center to attract unaffiliated voters.
“You can throw out all the conventional wisdom of previous years,” said Wadhams, who estimated that 40 percent of the voters had never previously cast a vote in a primary election.
Tancredo agreed that it’s an unconventional campaign season, but pointed out that nearly 20 percent of the voters left their ballots blank instead of opting for McInnis or Maes.
“I have this feeling… that most of the people who voted were voting against the other person in the race. And that’s not a very exhilarating campaign to start out on,” said Tancredo, who described it as a “hold my nose” choice between the GOP gubernatorial candidates.
“About 20,000 Republicans, they held their nose so tight but they still could smell it — so they didn’t vote for anybody,” Tancredo added during his radio remarks.
He said the choice was tough because both candidates had been embroiled in controversial character issues. McInnis had submitted plagiarized material in a series of water resource papers that he’d prepared several years ago toward the end of two-year, $300,000 fellowship for the Hasan Family Foundation. The foundation and McInnis recently reached an undisclosed financial settlement in the dispute.
Maes agreed to pay a $17,500 penalty for campaign finance filing violations. Last week, he made headlines again after claiming that Denver’s red bike-sharing program threatens to undermine personal freedoms because it’s part of a United Nations initiative. His comments were based on a brief perusal of information handed to him by a campaign supporter.
Maes’ mom Norma Tanner said that during low points in the campaign, her son had called her for advice.
“I told him, ‘Be true to yourself,’” said Tanner.
“When he was in 8th grade, for his confirmation, I gave him a plaque that said, ‘To thine own self be true,’” Tanner recalled. “He’s lived by that.”
Some of his campaign supporters, such as Judy Anderson, believe Maes won on a wing and a prayer.
After working long hours day after day as a campaign volunteer, Anderson said that she took a day off on Monday.
“I spent the whole day in prayer,” said Anderson.
“Thank God Almighty for what has happened here, tonight!” declared Maes at the end of his victory night speech.
The party might need God’s intervention and a miracle to unite Republicans behind Maes, who raged against the GOP establishment elite. Added to that challenge, the candidate needs to raise significant money to stand a fighting chance in the general election.
By Tuesday, Aug. 17, Maes must also choose a running mate in order for the Lt. Governor candidate to be named on the November ballots. He met with Colorado Board of Education member Peggy Littleton at her home in Colorado Springs about two weeks ago and asked her to join the GOP ticket if he won the nomination.
“It’s not going to happen, but I’m honored that he thinks that I would bring value to the ticket,” said Littleton, who is running for 5th District El Paso County Commissioner against Democrat former state Rep. Michael Merrifield.
“I’ve respectively declined this fantastic opportunity,” said Littleton. “I think Dan Maes is a fantastic candidate.”
She said that Maes “is looking for a running mate who has integrity, remained neutral in the Republican gubernatorial primary… and can appeal to McInnis supporters.”