GOP herd seeks nod for U.S. Senate

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Democrats are shaking their heads over having to choose between two candidates for the U.S. Senate — incumbent Michael Bennet and former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. So imagine the gigantesque dilemma for Colorado Republicans, who must decide which of nine contenders for GOP nomination has what it takes to beat the winner of the Democratic U.S. Senate primary.

Most of the GOP contenders have pencilled this weekend’s state Republican Party Central Committee meeting in Keystone into their Daytimers. There, they’ll have lots of schmoozing opportunities during Friday’s political forum and dinner and Saturday’s Central Committee meeting.

Invited participants in the GOP U.S. Senate contest include Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier; Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck; former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton; Denver businessman Cleve Tidwell; Crested Butte attorney Luke Korkowski; Vincent Martinez, of Denver; Gary Dean Kennedy, of Mancos; and Dr. Robert Greenheck, of Aurora.

That’s quite a herd!

According to the forum format, each candidate will make a short opening speech and give two-minute answers to a couple of questions. Some candidates have objected to the tight time constraint, and a few also don’t like the prospect of a straw poll on Friday.

To participate, a candidate must be registered with the Federal Elections Commission. Former state Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Douglas County, hasn’t registered, so he can’t participate — but he’s definitely not out of contention. Wiens hosted the Douglas County GOP picnic on his ranch in Salida last weekend. He delivered a rousing “If I’m elected” speech that translates to “I’ve really got a shot at winning this!”

“I’ll be launching my campaign in October,” said Wiens, adding that he may drop by the GOP Central Committee meeting on Saturday.

Buck’s campaign will be in high gear. It will be dishing snacks and drinks in the Silvers Room hospitality suite before the dinner and offering hot coffee with treats before breakfast on Saturday.

“It’s going to be a great event! It’s an ideal time to reach out to activists, and Ken will be at the hospitality suite to talk one-on-one with Republicans as well as participating in the events,” said Owen Loftus, Buck’s campaign policy and communications director.

“Ken had already traveled the 64 counties in Colorado before Senator Bennet completed his tour. This weekend gives Ken the opportunity to meet Republican activists and reconnect with the many supporters he’s met around the state,” Loftus added.

As for the candidates’ forum, Loftus said Buck will focus on the positions, experience and expertise that differentiates him from his Republican opponents — and from Democrats Bennet and Romanoff.

“It’s the right message — Ken is dedicated to doing what’s right for Colorado,” declared Loftus.

Norton, a relative newcomer to the race, also will host a hospitality suite on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning in Keystone Lodge’s Foxfire Room. Norton’s breakfast fare will include coffee, hot chocolate and muffins.

“It’s always a great opportunity to talk to members of the GOP Central Committee. The Central Committee is the backbone of our party, and the work they do will make the difference on Election Day,” said Cinamon Watson, Norton’s deputy campaign manager.

Norton plans to stress her ability to defeat the Democrat candidate — regardless of whether it’s former Speaker of the Colorado House Romanoff or Sen. Bennet, who was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter in January.

“Jane has the background, the credentials and the experience to win this election,” said Watson. “She is the only candidate in the race who has run and won a statewide election.”

Norton was elected lieutenant governor in 2002, the same year that Republican Gov. Bill Owens won a second term.

Watson said Norton plans to campaign in all of the state’s counties over the next 14 months and announce who will serve as county chairs for her campaign.

Frazier views the Keystone event “as an opportunity not to miss,” said Marc Massey, organizational director for the Frazier campaign.

“The candidates’ forum and straw poll will be fairly run — it’s one person per one vote,” he said.

“The event gives us the chance to get our message out there to hundreds of Republican activists and leaders,” he said, adding that Frazier also has been traveling around the state to meet grassroots Republicans.

Also touring the state is Korkowski — but not by car, bus or plane. He’s biking from Salida to Keystone and making campaign stops along the way.

“I’ve ridden through hail, wind and light snow,” said Korkowski. “I’m looking forward to meeting so many Republicans at one event. But, I’m not banking my entire campaign on Keystone.”

Korkowski said he admires former Republican presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a onetime presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party.

“I’m very close to Ron Paul on policy issues,” said Korkowski. “I believe we need to adhere to the text of the United States Constitution.”

“This campaign is not about me — it’s about you. It’s about your freedom,” said Korkowski.

Tidwell said that he’s looking forward to participating in the event, but has reservations about the forum and straw poll.

“The people who come to Keystone deserve more than two minutes to hear each candidate’s response to a question,” he said.

“I’m going to talk about how Republicans win this election — and the advantages of electing someone like me, who offers a fresh perspective, versus sending the same old clones back to Congress,” said Tidwell, who described his campaign as “unorthodox.”

Greenheck, a physician in Aurora, shares Tidwell’s concerns about the forum.

“I don’t think two-minute snippets are enough time for people to know where a candidate stands,” said Greenheck. “Candidates should have 10 to 15 minutes to get their message across.”

Greenheck said he supports health care and insurance reforms, but opposes the proposed government health care option. As a cardiology reviewer for the Disability Determination Services Division of the Social Security Administration, Greenheck said he’s witnessed abuses of Medicaid and watched it become “almost bankrupt.”

“I saw a liver transplant on an illegal immigrant,” said Greenheck, adding that such medical treatment won’t change with or without the government health care option. “We can’t deny medical care to anybody.”

As much as Greenheck would like to talk in depth about health care reforms, he won’t have that opportunity during the forum.

Tidwell and Greenheck also objected to the party conducting a straw poll eight months before the state GOP assembly.

“I’m concerned that a straw poll will split our party apart,” Tidwell said. “But it’s not my meeting and it’s not my agenda. There does appear to be an agenda.”

State GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams debunked those criticisms. A dinner ticket on Friday entitles the holder to cast a vote in each of the statewide races.

“Why be afraid of a straw poll? It’s one of several leading up to the state assembly,” said Wadhams.

“We’ve invited all of the candidates to participate. If anything, it shows we’re the party of the open door,” he declared.

Republican candidates Kennedy and Martinez did not return calls requesting interviews.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com