Wadhams says GOP doesn’t need a ‘Kumbaya’ rally

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Kiss goodbye the old tradition of statewide Republican candidates making the hop-and-drop tour of county party unity rallies. The goal had been to unite Republicans behind the winning candidates in divisive primary races.

“We don’t need a Kumbaya moment,” said state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams.

“There was never any rally planned,” he said. “There are tons of Republican events over the next few months.”

Several county parties are hosting social events to unify Republicans — including GOP veterans and “tea party” activists — behind the candidates.

Wadhams described the state Democratic Party’s unity rally at the state capitol on Thursday as a bunch of liberals “getting together and hugging each other.”

He said it was a “rally for the failed Democratic agenda of lost jobs, deepening debt and increased taxes.”

“It’s delusional,” said Wadhams with a laugh. “The Democrats are going down to defeat.”

“We will win the U.S. Senate race, pick up three Congressional seats and win majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature,” declared Wadhams.

Republican hopefuls include Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck for U.S. Senate, state Rep. Scott Tipton for 3rd Congressional District, state Rep. Cory Gardner for 4th Congressional District and Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier for 7th Congressional District.

With the exception of Gardner, the candidates won primary contests. Most contentious was the battle between Buck and former Colorado Lt. Governor Jane Norton. She graciously conceded the race and endorsed Buck a couple of hours after the polls closed on Tuesday.

“Buck has already unified the party,” declared Wadhams, who added that Buck’s political consultant, Walt Klein, “has a great handle on that campaign.”

The razor-close race between Republican candidates Dan Maes and former 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis reflects the divisions in the party. Maes, who won the primary, drew “Tea Party” support in his campaign against the party establishment that backed McInnis.

The state party chair said it would be next to impossible for Maes to win the race for governor because of former 6th District Congressman Tom Tancredo, the American Constitution Party gubernatorial candidate. Wadhams said that Tancredo’s entry into the race almost ensures victory for Democratic candidate Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

“How do you unify a party that is split down the middle in the governor’s race and possibly three ways because of Tancredo?” asked Sarah Jack, a political consultant in Colorado Springs. “Tom Tancredo threw a wrench into the race.”

Arapahoe County GOP Chair Dave Kerber said he was so dismayed that Tancredo jumped in the race that he sent a critical blast e-mail to Republicans and members of “tea party” groups. Kerber said the county party is united in its support for Maes.

“A lot of us establishment Republicans are ‘tea partiers’ too. We’re not on different sides. In fact, Dan Maes won Arapahoe County. Dan won fair and square and he’s our guy,” said Kerber.

Mesa County Republican voters favored Norton and McInnis in the primary, both who claim Grand Junction as their hometowns. Their endorsements of Buck and Maes will likely carry a lot of weight in uniting Republican voters behind the primary winners.

“Republicans here are all supporting all of our candidates,” said Mesa County GOP Chair Chuck Pabst. “We’re having a Republican unity event on Sept. 12 at Sherwood Park in Grand Junction, but that’s to start the get-out-the-vote drive to defeat Democrats.”

“We have ‘tea party’ groups depending on whose definition. There’s not as much delineation from Republicans as in other parts of the state,” said Pabst.

The factions are more apparent in the El Paso Republican Party.

The August edition of The Constitutionalist Today, a conservative publication based in Colorado Springs, endorsed Maes and Buck, but accused the state party of favoring establishment candidates, such as McInnis and Norton, and mistreating “Tea Party” activists.

The anti-GOP tone rippled through the “GOP: Party of Unity or Division?” editorial penned by The Constitutionalist Today Managing Editor Julie Ayers. She blasted the party for treating conservative candidates and “Tea Partiers” as “insignificant citizens who can be easily swept aside by the powerful, corrupt political machine.”

The editorial questioned the El Paso County GOP Executive Committee’s plan to hold a unity rally after the primary election. She asked how the local party could even consider a “unity” gathering after the “mudslinging, dirty political tactics, verbal attacks and downright disrespect the GOP backed candidates have displayed toward their conservative counterparts.”

Unmentioned were hits the “establishment” candidates took from conservative 527 committees and Progress Now Colorado.

Now that “tea party” favorites Buck and Maes won their primary races, the county party plans to discuss a unity rally at the executive committee meeting on Monday night. The goal is to shore up establishment Republican support for the candidates.

“Dan Maes ran against establishment Republicans and that won over the ‘tea party’ movement,” said consultant Jack. “They will probably be unhappy if he now courts Republicans — and it could be perceived as Maes moving to the center.”

Maes Communications Director Nate Strauch said that the Evergreen businessman won election largely because of the “tea party” votes, but he will obviously need Republican and independent votes to win the general election.

“He will continue to work hard and stand for what he believes in,” said Strauch. “He will campaign on the issues.”

Maes has railed against the GOP elitists picking candidates in a smoke-filled back room, Strauch said, but that was not against the party.

County parties, such as Larimer County GOP, are holding social events that serve as venues to unite and energize the party faithful. Republican National Committeeman Mark Hillman, who recently endorsed Maes, will headline the Larimer County GOP’s 2010 Reagan Roundup on Aug. 19 at the Ellis Ranch in Loveland.

“We’re not having a unity rally in Arapahoe County,” said Kerber. “We’re going to be out there campaigning to win over Democratic and independent voters.”

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com