By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
GREENWOOD VILLAGE — Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele rolled through Colorado aboard a big red bus last week to rally the state GOP. Along the way, he warned against complacency in the face of polls that show a Republican tide heading into the November election.
“How many of you think the Democrats are on the ropes?” Steele asked a crowd of about 150 Republicans at the Arapahoe County GOP Victory headquarters on Sept. 30. When the crowd cheered in agreement, the voluble party boss shook his head.
“No, no, no, baby, they’re not done. Don’t fall for that,” he warned. “They unify like nobody’s business when it comes down to Election Day and getting their vote out…” He continued: “We are down until we’ve won. You’ve got to complete this fight.”
It was a message Steele repeated up and down the Front Range — along with an earlier stop in Fort Collins and one the next morning in Pueblo — as part of his national “Fire Pelosi” bus tour. Polls and pundits alike predict Republicans have a good chance to win a majority in the House of Representatives, which would bounce Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from her job into the minority.
Steele also urged party activists to get behind embattled gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes even as recent polls showed his support slipping closer to single digits. After a surprise win in the August primary, political novice Maes has seen his support dwindle among state GOP leaders as prominent Republicans have defected to third-party candidate Tom Tancredo, the former Republican congressman who entered the race on the American Constitution Party ticket contending Maes is unelectable. Both candidates are facing Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the Democratic nominee.
Clapping Maes on the shoulder, Steele told the Arapahoe County crowd to stick with the party’s nominee.
“The question, very simply is, do you want a Democrat to run the state of Colorado, or do you want a Republican to run the state of Colorado?” he asked. “And if you want a Republican to run the state of Colorado, then Dan Maes is your man. But if you want to live in the quagmire of the past and recriminations and crazy noise, that won’t happen.”
Maes made his own impassioned plea to GOP volunteers moments before Steele spoke, noting a number of bright red T-shirts worn by supporters of his candidacy.
“We need to make sure there’s a unique team in Colorado, it’s going to be the Maes-Hickenlooper team,” he said, quickly adding he wanted to keep Hickenlooper as Denver’s mayor.
“Some of you are sitting out there saying, what is going on in the governor’s race,” Maes went on, bringing up a rash of negative news reports about campaign finance violations and concerns about his resume. Sounding angry, Maes charged the media with having to “dig up” decades-old stories to try to discredit him.
“I think they’re desperate and they’ve got nowhere else to go, because your voices are being heard for the first time in decades,” he assured the party faithful.
“I’m not the perfect guy you thought I was a year ago, but I’m still way ahead of the other two,” Maes said. He added: “There’s gonna be some bitter, angry old Republicans who just can’t get over the fact there’s a new boss in town. If your man lost in the primary, I’m asking you — humble yourself, join us.”
Calling the upcoming vote “the most important election in our lifetime,” Steele appealed to Republicans to keep fighting hard even though polls suggest voters are ready to toss out the Democrats.
“This opportunity goes beyond what the organized party can do at this point. This is really about you right now, this is really in your hands,” he told the assembled candidates and activists.
Among the candidates gathered in Arapahoe County were Scott Gessler, running for secretary of state, and two long-shot congressional candidates challenging incumbents in heavily Democratic districts.
“You have a chance for a clean sweep here in this state, do you realize that?” Steele announced, bringing 1st District candidate Mike Fallon and 2nd District candidate Stephen Bailey in front of the crowd.
In Pueblo later that evening, Steele blasted Democratic incumbent Rep. John Salazar and boosted his challenger, state Rep. Scott Tipton. But Steele skipped mention of 4th District candidate state Rep. Cory Gardner at his Fort Collins stop. Gardner, who has been harshly critical of Steele and even urged his ouster as chairman in April, didn’t attend the rally because of a scheduling conflict, his campaign said.