In the end, it wasn’t even close. A spirited and divisive race to replace Dick Wadhams as the next Colorado Republican Party chairman ended after just one ballot on March 26 at Douglas County High School in Castle Rock with a clear majority for Ryan Call, the state GOP legal counsel and former Denver County chairman.
Easily emerging from a field of five candidates, Call won with more than twice the votes of his closest competitor, state Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, who had mounted a conservative challenge to Wadhams before the outgoing two-term chairman withdrew from the race early last month. Incumbent state party vice chairman Leondray Gholston placed third, ahead of Clear the Bench Colorado organizer Matt Arnold and former Michigan congressional candidate Bart Baron.
Taking the stage moments after Wadhams declared him the new chairman, Call quoted Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, two poles of the modern Republican Party. Thanking his family and supporters, Call cited a favorite, “dog-eared” quote from Ike he said he’s carried with him for years: “Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.”
Asking fellow Republicans to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with him, he promised that, working together, they could enact the values they share. “Those conservative values of limited government, personal responsibility, dedication to a free-enterprise system that rewards merit and hard work, those principles that expand liberty and opportunity and a constitutional adherence to the rule of law — those are the things that make our country, our local communities strong.”
Then he told the crowd at Douglas County High School to prepare to get busy.
“I expect every single one of you to roll up your sleeves, open up your checkbooks and dust off those precinct-walking shoes because there’s a lot of work to be done, friends. But, together, I know we can do it,” Call said.
Chair candidates needed 138.46 votes to claim a win, and candidates predicted that would take at least a few ballots. “You can never tell what will happen in a five-man race,” Arnold said the night before at a Republican fundraising dinner. But when the votes were counted, Call had 166.7 votes, outpacing Harvey’s 74.48 and Gholston’s 23.16. Arnold garnered 10.5 votes and Baron had just 2 votes. (Results came in fractions because some state central committee votes were split among two or three county officers.)
After the results were announced, both Harvey and Arnold said they were surprised at the tally because they’d been promised many more votes than they received.
“I’m a little disappointed, for the ego,” Harvey said with a weary smile. “But the state party is going to be well served.” He said after having the chance to travel the state with Call, he’s convinced “he is truly a wonderful human being and I’m looking forward to working with him and uniting the party and make sure we are successful in 2012.”
As for whether Tea Party and other conservative activists will feel at home in the Republican Party, Harvey said that will be the GOP’s challenge.
“That’ll be Ryan’s and my job to make sure we keep them engaged and helping our party in the future,” Harvey said. “I believe he can do it, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work to make it happen.”
Arnold congratulated Call on the win but suggested he’s got his work cut out for him when it comes to keeping Tea Party and similar activists on board.
“Ryan ran a great campaign,” Arnold said. “He ran hard, he lobbied hard, he got out there and worked it very well, so he did a good job. I think he will take that same energy forward and I hope we can get the Republican Party back on track and regain the trust of the voters that we need to do.”
Electing to “stay the course” with Call, however, could raise questions for recently energized grassroots conservatives, Arnold said.
“I think a lot of the Liberty groups might be taking a long, hard look at the Republican Party — unfortunately, that’s just reality,” he said. “The Republican Party has opted for keeping things on an even keel — it’s OK, I respect that — but I do think we’re at a point where pretty radical transformation was needed. I hope that under Ryan’s leadership the Republican Party can regain that trust that we have lost.”
Republicans elected former state Senate candidate and Jefferson County Republican chairman Don Ytterberg as vice chairman by acclamation after candidate John Wagner pulled his name from contention.
Former state party vice chairwoman Perry Buck — wife of 2010 Republican Senate nominee and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck — easily won the race for party secretary over Jeremy Goodall, who was running on a ticket with Baron and Wagner.
A phalanx of lawmakers and officials stood around Harvey on stage for his nomination — he counted a majority of legislators in his camp, including House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton.
“Ted knows the fundamental nature of campaigns — he understands it takes full coalitions to win in competitive districts,” said Kopp, who added that Harvey’s “focused determination” was what the GOP needed to win in 2012.
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, seconded Harvey’s nomination. Noting that he served with Harvey in the state Legislature, Lamborn said, “I know as chairman, Ted will fully commit himself to making the Republican Party Colorado’s majority party and Barack Obama a one-term president.”
“It is my privilege to second the nomination of my friend — and my state senator — Ted Harvey,” McNulty said. His fellow House member, state Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, introduced himself as the state representative “from Douglas County, where we have no elected Democrats.” He called Harvey his best friend and added, “If you want your county to look like Douglas County, you’ll join me in supporting our next chairman, Ted Harvey.”
Attorney General John Suthers took the lead nominating Call, who was surrounded by three generations of family members and some of the most powerful Republicans in the state. Noting that he’s won statewide election twice, Suthers said he has “some sense what it takes to win statewide in Colorado.” It isn’t enough to win the base, Suthers said. “You must win over a majority of unaffiliated voters. Without them, you cannot win. So our party must present a conservative Republican message in a way that wins converts. We must do what it takes to expand our party, not just to purify our party.” Call, Suthers said, understood how to win where Republicans don’t have large majorities.
State Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, drew laughter and gasps of surprise during his remarks seconding Call’s nomination.
“Being a conservative and being a good leader is not enough for some people. They want to measure principles by how harshly you criticize the people that disagree with you,” he said. “There is a technical term for that political strategy — stupid.”
In nearly a dozen candidate forums held across the state over the last month, Call repeated his intentions to open the doors of the Republican Party to moderates — including pro-choice Republicans and even those willing to raise local taxes — along with young and Hispanic voters.
After his acceptance speech, Call told The Colorado Statesman he was “very surprised” to have won so decisively in a single round. “What it underscores,” he said, “is the desire among Colorado Republicans to become united and face our challenges together.”
Starting Monday, he said, he planned to make appointments to the state executive committee, sketch out a finance plan, and make key hiring decisions. “And then we’ll really begin the hard work of working to win elections in 2012.”