Pressure mounting on GOP candidate Maes to withdraw from guv race

Past gubernatorial candidate Beauprez says he'd weigh run as replacement

UPDATED FRIDAY, SEPT. 3

By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

By next Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, there could be a new Republican candidate for governor to replace current nominee Dan Maes. Names again are circulating as possible replacements, including the 2006 Republican candidate for governor, Bob Beauprez, and Jane Norton, the former lieutenant governor who recently lost the GOP Senate primary to Ken Buck.

Although Maes said Wednesday he is no longer talking to the press, Republicans statewide could hardly contain their speculation that the rookie candidate might be replaced on the ballot by early next week.

According to sources in the Colorado Republican Party and elsewhere interviewed Wednesday by The Colorado Statesman, major escalating problems and daunting revelations about Maes’ gubernatorial candidacy — with still more possible bombshells to drop — could unravel any hopes Maes has to stay on as the GOP standard bearer by Friday, prompting the state party to convene a special vacancy committee to select a new nominee after the required five-day advance notice. If that happened, the meeting could be held Tuesday, Sept. 7, and a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office said that even though the general election ballot is set to be certified this Friday, Sept. 3, there is probably enough wiggle room for county clerks to update ballots next week if necessary.

Less than 24 hours later, Secretary of State Bernie Buescher issued an updated statement.

“My office will continue to perform our ballot certification process, and we will certify the ballot content by 5 p.m. on Friday, September 3,” Buescher said. “Because of our late primary and challenges associated with recent federal legislation, timelines are incredibly tight. My office and the clerks are already arranging ballots and preparing to print more than three million ballots by the September 18 deadline.”

Buescher added that any last minute changes to the ballot after the Sept. 3 deadline will need to be addressed “on a county-by-county basis.”

Buescher continued, “Our clerks will do everything in their power to ensure an accurate ballot is sent to voters within the timelines being enforced by the Department of Justice and state law.”

On Wednesday, former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, a Republican, withdrew his official endorsement of Maes after The Denver Post reported that the candidate had embellished his history in law enforcement in Kansas decades ago.

“I’m concerned about the revelations. I’m withdrawing my endorsement,” Brown told The Post. “I’m beginning to find that (Maes’) explanations are not adequate.”

Maes had previously said in campaign material that he worked “undercover” with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation inside a gambling and drug operation when he was a small-town police officer in the mid 1980s. This week he backed away from the claim.

The embarrassing revelation follows a series of blunders by Maes, starting with a $17,000 fine levied by the secretary of state for errors made on earlier campaign finance reports.

After he won the primary Aug. 10, The Post reported that Maes had asked for, and accepted, an illegal $300 cash contribution from well-known lobbyist Freda Poundstone several months ago. At a Jefferson County Republican Men’s Club meeting this week, Poundstone laid out the details, recalling how Maes had told her he needed the money to make his mortgage payment. Poundstone, a supporter of Maes at the time, agreed to help out the candidate, but Maes didn’t report the contribution, as election law requires. Poundstone, who said she subsequently became disillusioned with Maes for exaggerating his business acumen and overstating his experience, withdrew her support. She has offered to take a lie detector test to back up her charges, but Maes dismissed her proposal. On Monday, Maes attempted to hand Poundstone a $300 check to refund the contribution but the memo line was left blank and the check was unsigned.

The week before, also at the Jefferson County Republican Men’s Club, Maes acknowledged that he has failed to raise enough campaign funds to challenge Democratic nominee John Hickenlooper and American Constitution Party nominee Tom Tancredo, who only last month declared his candidacy after determining there was no way Maes could — or should — win the governor’s race.

Scarce contributions stymie campaign
Maes complained to the local political club that many Republicans who have traditionally funded candidates over the years are “sitting on the sidelines” and withholding donations.

That really should be of little surprise. It’s been reported that the Republican Governors Association, with limited funds this election year, sees little reason to be involved in Colorado with such a weak Republican candidate on the ticket and has decided to redirect $9 million the organization had allotted for the race.

State Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams has alternately tried to persuade Maes that he cannot win the election without outside help and largesse from big donors, at the same time reiterating the party’s support for Maes, the duly elected GOP nominee.

But events in recent days have been spiraling out of control for Maes. Republicans, including Tea Party and other conservative organizations around the state that initially heralded his candidacy and fueled his upset win in the primary, are now calling for him to reconsider and withdraw.

Maes spent much of the day Wednesday in Washington, D.C., meeting with the RGA. Sources within the party report that it is unlikely the organization has decided to support Maes, especially in the wake of damaging revelations emerging this week.

Further, the few remaining Republican officials who have endorsed Maes since he won the primary are following Brown’s lead and withdrawing their support. On Thursday, former state Senate president John Andrews called Maes “manifestly unfit” to serve and pulled his endorsement after having given Maes his “unwavering” support just a couple days ago.

That was followed soon after by beer executive and former U.S. Senate candidate Pete Coors, who also said he doesn’t support Maes despite his initial endorsement a couple weeks ago.

Conservative Republican legislator Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, posted a message on his Facebook page Thursday about the situation.

“This is tough for everyone. A lot of good people believe deeply in Dan Maes. They think every new piece of bad news is dirty establishment tricks. But friends, most of the damage is self-inflicted. Most is small stuff, but cumulatively, politically, it’s fatal. Dan’s ship is sinking and it’s not entirely unfair that it is. It’s time for Maes to put the principles he promotes ahead of his desire to be their messenger,” Mitchell stated.

Maes, an underdog candidate for governor for the last year and a half, narrowly won the August 10 primary election after Scott McInnis, a former six-term congressman from the Western Slope, was accused of plagiarizing a series of articles on water policy after he left Congress as part of a fellowship with the Hasan Family Foundation. McInnis was paid $300,000 for the articles and said he reached a settlement only recently to pay back the money to the Hasans, a wealthy family with Colorado roots and a history of massive financial support for Republican candidates and causes.

Since his upset win in the primary, Maes has faced predictions that he will be a drag on the ticket statewide amid clamoring that he step aside so Republicans can name a more electable candidate.

GOP power brokers urge Maes withdrawal
The call for Maes to withdraw from the race grew even louder the night of Aug. 26 when a group of powerful Republicans summoned Maes to the home of a renowned Colorado Springs businessman. Maes, who showed up with his daughter and “executive aide” Jordan in tow, was confronted by the group, which tried to persuade Maes he had personal and family reasons to quit the race. The candidate cited his prowess as a super salesman as only one reason he could win and roundly rejected the proposal he get out.

“We talked about avoiding attacks that have now continued to create terrible and disastrous turmoil on his family,” one of the attendees at the closed meeting told The Statesman.

“None of us wanted to hurt him, but neither do we want him to hurt the party,” said another one of the meeting’s participants, who added that he was personally insulted and offended by Maes’ unrelenting braggadocio that night.

“Now that the stuff on Maes has come out and shown him to not be credible and have serious character flaws, the motivation of Tom Tancredo getting into the race is a lot clearer,” opined the host of the meeting. “Now people are crediting Tancredo for saying all along that this guy (Maes) not only could not win the election, but should not be given the opportunity. Tancredo should be congratulated and thanked.”

If Maes were to drop out of the race, Tancredo has pledged to also withdraw his third-party candidacy, making it more likely conservative voters could rally against Hickenlooper.

The day after the meeting in Colorado Springs, Karen Maes, the candidate’s wife, said she was stunned to learn about the meeting. She wrote about it in an e-mail to supporters.

“A wealthy man advised Dan that Dan should use his great sales skills to influence the grass roots to understand that Dan stepping aside was in the best interest of the state. Can you believe the arrogance!” she wrote on Aug. 27.

“Dan told them they had no clue what was really happening and that they ‘just don’t get it’! Dan told them that THE PEOPLE WILL NOT TOLERATE political games like this any longer. He told them you are not going to fall in line.”

Karen Maes continued, “Another thing that I found arrogant was that Dan relayed that these men were watching some of their business associates say they would go to Hickenlooper because, ‘they might be able to influence HIM’. Is this what THE PEOPLE want? They saw this movement of what might be 50-100 people toward Hickenlooper. Can you imagine that they thought this was more important than the hundreds of thousands of people who voted in the primary, and the almost two hundred thousand who voted for Dan earlier this month!”

Vacancy could be filled by Tuesday
Although Wadhams would not discuss possible scenarios for replacing his party’s nominee, he confirmed Wednesday night that the required five-day advance notice under state election law would allow a vacancy committee to meet as early as next Tuesday, if it became necessary. Colorado secretary of state spokesman Richard Coolidge confirmed that county clerks have some leeway to order ballots printed, and agreed that changes could still be made.

“We can certify the ballot this Friday, but it doesn’t mean it’s locked,” Coolidge told The Statesman. If a candidate were, for instance, to drop out of a race, there would still be enough time to comply with the federal MOVE Act that stipulates when ballots must be sent to state residents serving overseas in the military.

Coolidge said that ballots must be mailed at least 45 days before the election, which would allow for them to be mailed as late as Sept. 18. But Buescher later emphasized that the issue would have to be settled on a county to county basis.

The state GOP vacancy committee is comprised of the 24 members of the state executive committee: the five party officers, plus one member from each congressional district, plus the House and Senate leaders, and ten others who are appointed by the state chairman.

Any possibility that a vacancy committee might pick a new candidate depends on Maes voluntarily stepping aside from the race.

Maes told The Statesman Wednesday afternoon that he is no longer talking to the press.

Campaign spokesman Nate Strauch said shortly afterwards that the campaign was proceeding along as planned. “Dan has no problems as of right now,” he said.

The article in The Denver Post about Maes’ job employment in Kansas “did not accurately portray” the situation, Strauch said. (Wadhams later disagreed with Strauch’s rosy assessment, labeling The Post story “very damning.” He called misrepresentation of Maes’ record as a police officer “comparable to plagiarism.”)

Beauprez says he’d consider run
Beauprez, the former two-term congressman who lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat Bill Ritter in 2006, said Wednesday it’s time for Maes to step aside.

After an afternoon appearance on KHOW’s Caplis & Silverman radio show, Beauprez told The Statesman he would consider accepting the nomination if the vacancy committee thought he should run.

“Obviously it’s not going well for Dan, not by a thousand cuts,” Beauprez said Wednesday night. “A lot of his problems are self-inflicted. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but you peel off some of the skin off the onion and it doesn’t get any better.”

Beauprez added that there’s still one option left for Maes if he wants to ensure that a conservative candidate is elected governor in November: to withdraw from the race so that the Republican Party can come up with someone else.

“John Hickenlooper is very vulnerable,” Beauprez said, echoing the consensus of the Republicans who met with Maes in Colorado Springs.

In addition to urging Maes from the race, the GOP power brokers also decided that Beauprez would be an excellent replacement with only two months remaining before the election.

“I’m flattered,” Beauprez said when asked whether he might step in. “What I have told them is that, if a vacancy were ever to occur, I’d entertain the phone call to think about it seriously. I like to think I have plenty of gas in the tank and plenty to give. But it’s a bit idle (to talk about) now. First things first,” Beauprez cautioned.

That being said, Beauprez acknowledged that he would be “a better candidate than I was in 2006,” and emphasized that he has learned from that experience.

“I believe that was a job that had my experience and credentials and passion written all over it,” he said about the governor’s race four years ago. “That hasn’t changed. I still have another rodeo in me. If that vacancy were to occur, I would take the candidacy discussion very seriously,” he said.

He said he would handle things differently if he ran again. “I would be more relaxed and understanding if I were to run again for governor,” Beauprez said.

He also acknowledged that he’s discussed the possibility with his wife, Claudia.

“It’s a very big challenge but I’ve still got an organization around the state and friends to call and a donor list as large as anyone in the state,” he said.

If a vacancy committee selects a replacement candidate for office, party rules stipulate that a simple majority of those present could pick the nominee. Wadhams said he would insist on an open meeting and require that a roll call vote be taken so everyone would know who received whose votes.

However, Wadhams made sure to add, “We can’t remove or force a candidate to withdraw.”

And there lies the rub.

On Thursday morning, Maes posted a statement on his campaign website.

“When you get the media and the machine out of the way and the peoples voices are heard, we win. Do not not be deceived by word games and manipulation by the media. We are in the 4th quarter of the game and we must dig deeper than ever into our souls to find the strength to fight to… the end. Do not waiver. Do not quit. This is all part of the journey.”

Pat Waak, the chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, seemed to be coming to his defense Thursday afternoon.

“Kingmakers and power-players in the Republican party clearly want to play games with their party’s vote for Dan Maes. The mess they’ve created is their own mess... until that mess impacts all voters in this election. These back room deals cannot — should not — threaten the integrity of this election, the ability for our soldiers overseas to vote, or impede our county clerks from printing their ballots.”

Jody@coloradostatesman.com