McInnis campaign at odds with GOP

By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

With almost a year before the primary race to decide which Republican goes up against Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter in November of 2010, early skirmishes between one of the major Republican campaigns and party leadership threatens to cast a veil of intra-party divisiveness that could ultimately affect the outcome of the race.

Former Congressman Scott McInnis, one of the top two GOP candidates for governor, ignited the latest spark of controversy in an Aug. 28 letter to members of the Republican state central committee, who are scheduled to meet the last weekend in September at Keystone.

One of the planned events is a candidate forum and dinner on Sept. 25, at which a straw poll will allow guests to vote for who they think did the best job articulating why they should be the party’s nominee for governor and senator.

“It is my belief that a straw poll over a year out from the general election will result in a higher propensity for party infighting,” McInnis wrote in his letter. “Many do not see the value in a poll that has no science or accepted methodology and where the votes are sold as a fundraiser and (where) one can vote many times based on the money they give.

“This straw poll provides discourse amongst ourselves,” McInnis charged, pledging to “heartily participate in a series of well-planned events” at the right time.

Recent party history indicates, McInnis added, that “we must do it in a timely fashion and in a manner that provides the least opportunity for the democrats (sic) to gain ammunition.”

Republican State Chairman Dick Wadhams subsequently expressed “profound disappointment” with the former congressman’s decision to not attend the party event on Sept. 25. Wadhams also took exception to McInnis’ contention that the straw poll would create “infighting.”

But even more disturbing, Wadhams said, is the candidate’s campaign manager’s suggestion that the party was somehow rigging the straw poll that evening.

Participating in this forum, Wadhams said, is a “tremendous opportunity for a candidate.”

“The letter from the McInnis campaign curiously alleges that the ‘straw poll provides discourse amongst ourselves,’” Wadhams said. “Indeed it does!

“Discourse is defined by Merriam-Webster as a ‘verbal exchange of ideas’ and ‘formal and orderly and usually extended expression of thought on a subject.’ And that is exactly what the forum is intended to do,” explained the party chairman.

“As Republicans, we believe competition makes us better and stronger. A rigorous, competitive nomination process produces better candidates,” Wadhams said in his own letter to state central committee members.

“This will be the first time Republican leaders will be gathered in one place since the candidates for Governor and U.S. Senate have been defined,” Wadhams said.

Immediately following the release of the McInnis letter, the Colorado Republican State executive committee, meeting in Pueblo last Friday, voted 16 to 1 to move forward with the forum and straw poll.

“And we fully intend to do so,” Wadhams stated.

Wadhams pointed out in his letter that McInnis’ campaign spokesman was quoted in the Denver Post that same day as saying he was “suspicious” of the straw poll.

“Consider the source of this allegation,” Wadhams advised.

Sean Duffy, the spokesman for McInnis to whom Wadhams was referring, previously worked for “liberal billionaire Tim Gill who has spent tens of millions of dollars attacking Republicans in Colorado,” Wadhams said. “The spokesman just recently left his job at a Democratic political consulting firm that is running Bill Ritter’s campaign.”

Duffy told The Statesman that it’s a “bad idea” for Republicans to beat up on Republicans, which is exactly what he thinks would happen at the candidate forum later this month.

“This early we need to be focused on raising money and going after the Governor,” Duffy said.

Besides, he added, the straw poll has been set up so that anybody can vote. Even Karl Marx could show up and vote in the Republican straw poll, Duffy said.

He pointed to Michael Britt, the former executive director of the state party who now manages GOP rival Josh Penry’s gubernatorial campaign, as the culprit who designed what he maintains is a flawed straw poll.

“It’s a one-two punch,” Duffy said. “An unwrapped gift to the Democrats.”

Duffy added, “It’s a bad idea, we just disagree.”

Wadhams says the straw poll will add “some drama” to the occasion and is just one event in a marathon of events leading up to the 2010 election.

He also said the feedback he’s received about having the straw poll is “unanimously positive.”

Wadhams explained that there will only be one vote per ticket. “I could buy 200 tickets, but I couldn’t cast 200 votes,” he said. The rest would have to be cast by other people.

“If I bought a ticket I will get a ballot. There is only one vote per ticket,” Wadhams stressed.

“Scott will be out there raising money for Republicans,” Duffy pledged about his candidate. “He’ll help whatever candidates he can.”

As for Wadhams’ comments about his previous work in the political arena, Duffy said his time in conservative politics and Republican causes is very lengthy, including his four years as deputy chief of staff to Republican Gov. Bill Owens.

“I did Referendum I — I didn’t work for Tim Gill,” Duffy asserted.

Duffy called Wadhams’ comments “a distraction” and said he now belongs to a “fraternity of folks who have been at the other end of Wadhams’ flames, whether they be Democrats, Republicans or Independents.” It’s almost like a badge of honor, he intoned.

jody@coloradostatesman.com