By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
It’s tough enough to be an unknown in a field of heavyweight Republican potential U.S. Senate candidates, but Cleve Tidwell is charting the course — and juggling jury duty with campaign meetings from dawn until midnight.
“I’m just a regular guy, and I’m on my way to jury duty,” declared Tidwell, talking on a cell phone as he traversed the safety detectors in a Denver courthouse.
It was not a stop on his original campaign agenda for the week, but Tidwell didn’t pass up the opportunity to perform a public service.
In order to dedicate full time to his U.S. Senate bid, he recently resigned as president of Money Café USA, Inc., an international financial planning firm with offices in Denver, Tokyo and Osaka, Japan.
“I’m making a decision to run for office or play a little more golf,” he joked.
Tidwell has traveled the world as a business consultant; his clients have included AIG and other American firms as well as Japanese companies. The consultant evaluated and re-established their management systems.
“I bring a steady hand to a crisis,” Tidwell said. “I work well under pressure, and I’m a fighter. I’m a person who knows how to win. Those are qualities we need in Congress.”
He said he felt compelled to “get off the couch and do something positive to stop the government from running our lives.”
President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress are “taking away the power of people,” Tidwell declared. “The bailouts are just one symptom of the problem. And, now, they’re sticking their noses in businesses, trying to control how they’re run, too.”
He said before embarking on this political adventure, he talked with businessmen, politicians and friends. He also met with state GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams.
“They all said that they’re glad I’m running! Dick didn’t give me any advice. He was just very positive — very positive!” Tidwell said with a lilt in his voice.
Wadhams said he told Tidwell, “If he wants to run, ‘Get in there and work hard.’ Because we don’t have an incumbent, it’s an open nomination process. It takes determination and hard work, contacting Republicans around the state.”
The GOP chairman noted that the race could be a huge challenge for a political newcomer like Tidwell. Other potential Republican contenders include such veterans as Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, KHOW talk-show host and attorney Dan Caplis and former 7th Congressional District Congressman Bob Beauprez.
“It’s not rocket science!” Wadhams laughed. “You just have to work hard.”
Next year, the Republican nominee will face incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet.
Tidwell hit the road running — appearing at numerous Republican gatherings, from the Phillips County GOP Lincoln Day dinner to Denver’s “Blueprint for Tomorrow” dinner featuring Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele.
Like a seasoned politician, Tidwell worked the room, introducing himself to as many of the 750 Republican diners as possible. The following day, he spoke at the state party central committee meeting in Douglas County.
“This is one of the most exciting and invigorating challenges in my life,” he enthused. “I’ve met wonderful people and politicians.”
Until recently, Tidwell probably wouldn’t have called politicians “wonderful.” He counts it among his advantages that he’s a businessman and a political outsider, rather than possibly jaded Capitol Hill career politico.
Perhaps most intriguing was his stint in Honduras, where he served as the managing director of a coffee farm from 2000 to 2007.
“I loved Central America!” he exclaimed. “I loved the people — the Hispanic people are wonderful!”
Tidwell served in the U.S. Marine Corps and attended Norman Park College in Georgia. He grew up in the small community of Lagrange in Troup County, southwest of Atlanta.
Perhaps political red clay dust might have kicked up under Tidwell’s childhood sneakers. The county is also home to Callaway Gardens — a resort owned and operated by the family that includes a former state GOP Chair Bo Callaway, who ran for the U.S. Senate in 1980.
Tidwell is a diehard believer in free markets without government manipulation. He said that government’s role is to protect Americans — as in the term, “national defense.”
He said that the economic crisis could be better resolved by allowing small businesses and corporations to grow without government intervention, which would create more jobs.
“Americans can and will work our way out of tough times if government will stay out of our lives and businesses,” Tidwell declared.
Tidwell plans to take his campaign to El Paso County, where he’ll speak at the April 15 Tax Day Tea Party on the Pioneer Museum lawn in downtown Colorado Springs. The “zinger” tea rally is one of several hundred protests being organized across the country.
Former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan mass e-mailed a call to cups.
“Some Tea Party participants call themselves ‘God-fearing patriots,’ and it’s a good description for the movement that is gaining strength,” wrote Buchanan.
“In outrage against the billions of our dollars being used to pay for the irresponsible behavior of others — and the trillions more in the Obama budget that will be used to expand government even further into our lives — the Reagan coalition of the faithful and the fiscally conservative is reassembling,” Buchanan wrote in his summary of the conservative uprising.
Tidwell has converted at least one fan — blogger “Mr. Burton,” a Republican from El Paso County, who told of his support for Tidwell and urged fellow conservatives to sit up and take note.
Another conservative blogger, “American Son,” e-mailed Buchanan and begged him to come save the day from Tidwell.
“Pat, this guy, Cleve Tidwell, is making it known that the political types that call themselves conservatives, are looking at us as stupid people to be used,” wrote “American Son” to Buchanan. “His press guy sent an e-mail with the following buzz-garbage to convince us he is our man.”
The “offending” language included such phrases as “positive vision for the future,” “higher productivity” and “every citizen or legal national in America should be treated with equality.”
“American Son” complained that politicians with their “…smiling, make-nice, reach-across-the-aisle, milquetoast attitudes, are either continuing to sell America down the river or are absolutely clueless.”
“Agghh!!! What we have now are clowns to the left of us and jokers to the right. But, what we need is Pat,” he exclaimed.
In light of these fighting words, it will be interesting to see if El Paso County warriors give peace and Tidwell — a chance.