Denver Republicans are under no illusion that defeating Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in 2014 will be anything but an uphill climb — to say the least.
In the heavily Democratic-leaning Congressional District 1, DeGette has reigned supreme since 1996, earning her the title of “dean” of the Colorado delegation, and a position as chief deputy whip.
But don’t tell that to Martin Walsh, a Denver Republican investment consultant who is seeking to challenge the popular Democrat next year. Walsh says his run is more than just about defeating DeGette. He said it’s really about holding her accountable to her constituents.
“She’s been re-elected on autopilot for the last number of years, over a decade,” explained Walsh. “I want to have her account for her voting record, I want her to account for her record as a congressperson. To the extent that I can engage with her and create a dialogue, stir the pot and bring my principles and values, and I think the values of many of her constituents, to the table, that would be great.”
But that’s not to say that Walsh isn’t running a serious campaign. He spoke to the Denver Republican Party on Friday morning. The Colorado Statesman spoke with him afterwards about his campaign, which he says will focus on the gridlock that is currently plaguing Washington, D.C.
“If you were to ask a Democrat, or a Republican, or an independent, ‘Are things going well in Washington? Are you happy with the progress that is being made?’ Whether it’s at the executive level with President Obama, or whether it’s Congress, I think the answer would widely be, ‘No.’ That’s not just a partisan view from the Republican side,” said Walsh.
“I think that Diana DeGette has been a representative for too long, and I think it would be great to have a change there, someone new and fresh to bring a new perspective,” he added.
Walsh said his focus would be on jobs and the economy, suggesting that Republican values on limited government do more to spur economic growth.
“From DeGette’s standpoint, I think she’s a champion of increased regulation and bureaucracy at every turn, which is not the best way to create jobs,” he said.
“The biggest thing I want to communicate to independent voters is that they have a choice. They don’t have to settle for Diana DeGette,” Walsh continued.
Redistricting in 2011 offered Republicans a better chance, but nothing that dramatically changed the landscape. The boundary shift gave CD 1 a few more registered Republicans by expanding into neighboring Jefferson County, as well as taking on a portion of Arapahoe County.
But the district still widely leans to the left, with 44 percent Democrats, 19 percent Republicans and 36 percent unaffiliated. The district has seen an uptick in unaffiliated voters, by about seven points over the year, which means a good chunk of the voting bloc could be up for grabs.
Walsh said appealing to unaffiliated voters would be a priority. At 33 years old, he believes his relatively young age is a benefit for him in attracting undecided voters. He said Millennials are becoming increasingly concerned with the rising deficit and national debt.
“It’s really framing it as we’re young people, and on many issues we may have voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. But we’re also extremely concerned with the trajectory of what’s going on in terms of our national debt,” explained Walsh. “We’re bankrupting our children and grandchildren. It’s become a moral issue for us, and we’re not going to stand for it.”
He pointed to a generational shift in the Republican Party, which has exposed a rift over priorities. The old social conservative issues of the GOP are not as important to younger voters, which have caused tensions within the party.
“If you look at polling, the issues that are important to Millennials are perhaps different than what our parents cared about,” opined Walsh. “You can be true to your principles both in terms of limited government and individual liberty, but also frame it in a way that is relevant to younger voters.
“I want to be a big tent candidate,” he continued. “I think the Republican Party does itself a disservice by fragmenting itself. We agree on 90 percent of the issues, but we get stuck on the 10 percent and fragment ourselves.”
One such area where Walsh believes he can make progress in uniting various groups under the Republican Party is on immigration reform. As Congress grapples with providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Walsh believes the GOP has a chance to shine. But more conservative elements of the party refuse to negotiate if it means providing citizenship.
“It’s an issue that historically we as Republicans have lost on,” stated Walsh. “We’re seen as kind of the bad guys in the debate.
“I understand absolutely where folks are coming from in terms of not giving a free pass to everyone who has broken the law in the past, but I think the principle where I’m working from is free trade and the free movement of labor are good things,” he continued. “They’re good things for our economy.”
Walsh acknowledges that fundraising will be an issue and that he will have to invest a lot of his own resources into the campaign. Given the landscape of the district, CD 1 is often forgotten by the state Republican Party, and certainly by national GOP interests.
Fundraising numbers are not yet available for Walsh with the Federal Election Commission. DeGette had about $72,000 in the bank, indicating that she doesn’t appear to be too worried about mounting much of a fight against an opponent.
“I wouldn’t run if I weren’t going to give it my all, and so of course that means lots of time and energy and raising as much money as possible,” said Walsh. “Realistically, I have to raise quite a bit of money and work incredibly hard.”
One man who is familiar with the David vs. Goliath fight ahead of Walsh is Danny Stroud, a Republican who challenged DeGette in 2012. Stroud lost overwhelmingly after lackluster fundraising.
Stroud hasn’t ruled out running for the seat again, which would pit him in a primary against Walsh. In the meantime, Stroud believes he helped pave the way for other Republicans to challenge DeGette.
“I think I did some good,” mused Stroud. “I raised the profile of this district. We might not have won, but we got some good things accomplished, we got the awareness up, we got the incumbent in a position where she had to be out there more and talk more.”
But Stroud acknowledged that he certainly felt the sting going up against the powerful DeGette.
“You can’t as a conservative run against the incumbent Democrat in Denver,” suggested Stroud. “They have so much brand awareness, they have so much of a machine, they have so much behind the scenes backing from the Democratic Party in general that that’s a difficult fight, and I learned that in 2012.”
But Stroud is pleased to see that other Republicans are willing to continue the fight, suggesting that the GOP has to “hunker down and charge into battle,” despite the daunting challenge.
“It’s an egregious demonstration of laziness to lay down just because it’s a hard fight,” he said. “That’s despicable behavior on the part of citizens and conservatives. It’s a losing strategy for the long haul… You have to fight even when you know the odds are against you.”
Denver Republican Party CD 1 Chairman Alex Hornaday agreed that his party must continue the fight, despite the mountain. He said he doesn’t expect much help from the state party, but that the county party will offer whatever resources it can.
“We are not considered a high priority district, and that’s just a fact of the matter,” explained Hornaday. “What that means is that our candidates have to work the shoe leather a little bit harder, work the phones a little bit harder, sort of working on their own campaigns.
“The Colorado party will help in some ways, but they have to be careful about their resources by putting them where they think they’re going to have the most effect,” he continued.
But Hornaday said he and his fellow Denver Republicans are used to it, and that hard work is part of the mantra. He would just like to see some more progress.
“Part of being a conservative is you take the world as it is, not necessarily as you’d like it to be,” said Hornaday. “And while we think that parts of Denver are showing encouraging signs, we are nowhere near where we’d like to be.”
DeGette’s office did not respond when asked about the potential political race.