Defiant Maes stays in race as state GOP, top business leaders pull support

By Jody Hope Strogoff and Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

In the face of increasing pressure to drop out, Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes on Friday vowed to stay in the race through the November election. A defiant Maes said he’s “proud to say I’m in it to win it” despite losing the support of numerous influential Republicans, including Senate candidate Ken Buck, who withdrew his endorsement of Maes on Friday afternoon.

At the same time, third-party challenger Tom Tancredo repeated his intentions to continue campaigning and — calling Maes “no longer a viable opponent” — challenged Democrat John Hickenlooper to a series of debates.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Republican Party has officially abandoned its support of their nominee, with State Chairman Dick Wadhams saying he was “very disappointed in the decision by Dan Maes to continue his candidacy for governor. Revelations before and especially after the August 10th primary have raised serious questions about the veracity of how he has presented his professional background and career and have virtually destroyed any possibility of running a viable campaign.”

Also, a former chair of the Denver County Republican Party, Mary Smith, said this week that she’s publicly supporting Denver’s Democratic mayor John Hickenlooper in the race and is co-hosting a bipartisan fundraiser for him later this month with other well known Republican and Democrats.

Additionally, prominent Republican businessman Steve Schuck, who twice ran for governor in the 1980s, confirmed to The Colorado Statesman late Friday that he is throwing his support to Tancredo and expects other business leaders and Republicans across the state to follow suit.

“After speaking with, and hearing from, numerous Coloradans — from former Senators to family farmers — I’ve determined that I cannot turn my back on the 200,000 voters who nominated me to run for this office,” Maes said in a statement issued late Friday afternoon, putting to rest any speculation he would withdraw from the race in time for Republicans to appoint a substitute candidate before county clerks must begin printing ballots.

Maes narrowly defeated former six-term Congressman Scott McInnis in the August 10 gubernatorial primary, which saw record Republican turnout. McInnis, long considered the front-runner for the nomination, stumbled a month earlier amid allegations he plagiarized articles on water policy as part of a fellowship that paid him $300,000.

Speculation that Maes might drop out reached a frenzy this week on the heels of a Denver Post report that the Evergreen businessman had exaggerated his work on a Kansas police force in the 1980s. It was just the latest in a series of blunders Maes has made during his almost year-and-a-half effort to win the governorship.

GOP heavyweights pull support
Buck, who endorsed Maes in late August, pulled his backing Friday afternoon.

“After having a lengthy conversation with Dan Maes, it is clear to me that Dan is struggling to determine the best path for his campaign, his family and for Colorado,” Buck said in a statement. “I have decided that I can no longer support his candidacy for governor of Colorado.”

The loss of Buck’s backing is only the most recent in an avalanche of top Republicans fleeing the political novice.

On Thursday, former Senate President John Andrews — who lost a race for governor on the Republican ticket two decades ago — announced that he was no longer behind Maes despite a glowing endorsement of him just days earlier.

“As a conscientious Republican who earlier voted for Dan, I cannot support a manifestly unfit nominee,” Andrews said in a statement. “He has flunked his job interview with the people of Colorado in the weeks since Scott McInnis faded. The party should cut Maes loose if he does not resign the nomination.”

Andrews said he intended to write in the name of former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, who lost her primary race against Buck for the Senate seat last month.

Maes had a message Friday for past supporters who pulled their endorsements this week:

“To those who have withdrawn their support for my campaign, I am confident that the truth will be revealed,” he said. “I hope you’ll hear my side of the story and help our party regroup and unite to beat the Democrats.”

He also thanked the handful of prominent Republicans — including former U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, former Aurora Mayor Paul Tauer and state Sen. Dave Schultheis — who hadn’t abandoned him.

Maes backer blasts turncoats
Reached by telephone Friday afternoon, Tauer said he was “absolutely” sticking with Maes and had some harsh word for Republicans who have withdrawn their support of the candidate.

“I think it’s atrocious that some of the people are doing what they’re doing,” Tauer said, “in my mind, helping to damage the Republican Party by abandoning the candidate, whoever the candidate might be — in this case Dan Maes.”

Tauer said he was “delighted” Maes had decided to stay in the race and had encouraged as much.

“I sent him an e-mail to that regard last night,” Tauer said, “hoping he would decide to stay in the race and not bow to the pressure.”

Tancredo, a former Republican congressman, bolted the GOP in July and launched a run for governor on the American Constitution Party ticket. As recently as two weeks ago, Tancredo offered to end his campaign — and avoid splitting the conservative vote — if Maes would drop out and allow Republican officials to name a replacement candidate.

“Five weeks ago I told Republicans that Mr. Maes was both professionally and personally unqualified to be their candidate,” Tancredo said in a statement Friday afternoon. “I gave them several opportunities to get him out, even offering them my candidacy as an inducement.”

The announcements came the same day Colorado’s top election officers are required to make the fall ballot official and send it to county clerks. Department of State spokesman Rich Coolidge confirmed the ballot had been certified late Friday afternoon.

In a statement issued Thursday, Secretary of State Bernie Buescher said that, “(any) last minute changes to the ballot after tomorrow’s deadline will need to be addressed on a county-by-county basis.”

The state Republican Party has officially supported its gubernatorial nominee since Maes won the primary, but as increasingly damaging revelations surfaced this week, efforts had been underway to get him to withdraw.

Wadhams denies pushing Maes with ‘damaging evidence’
A story published earlier Friday by the Washington, D.C.-based Politico referenced an anonymous source who said Maes met Friday morning with members of the Colorado Republican Party’s executive committee. According to the political news site’s account, powerful Republicans confronted Maes with further “damaging evidence” about him that hadn’t yet been made public in a last ditch effort to force him from the race.

But GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams unequivocally denied that the meeting described in Politico had taken place.

“There was no meeting with Maes by me and/or the executive committee,” Wadhams told The Statesman on Friday afternoon. He also said the GOP did not have any “damaging evidence” against Maes, as was reported in the Politico story.

Nate Strauch, spokesman for Maes’ campaign, also told The Statesman that the purported meeting did not occur.

However, a member of the state’s 24-member executive committee told The Statesman late in the day Friday that, while no official meeting of the executive committee had been convened, a member of the committee talked with Maes about the mounting negative information beginning to leak out about his personal and professional background. The top GOP official asked Maes to seriously consider withdrawing his name from the ballot before the 5 p.m. Friday deadline for ballot certification.

Maes’ decision to stay in the race was met with varied reaction from Republicans. Most stunning, perhaps, was an announcement issued by the Colorado GOP just minutes after Friday’s ballot certification deadline. The statement, signed by Wadhams, didn’t include Maes’ name on the list of Republican candidates that had the official support of the state party.

“Colorado Republicans are firmly committed to the election of Ken Buck as U.S. Senator over the accidental senator, Michael Bennet. We will reelect John Suthers as Attorney General and also elect Scott Gessler as Secretary of State and Walker Stapleton as State Treasurer,” Wadhams said in the release.

Likewise, Wadhams continued, “Congressmen Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman will be reelected and we have strong candidates in the other five congressional districts. In fact, recent public polls show Scott Tipton leading John Salazar in the Third District, Cory Gardner leading Betsy Markey in the Fourth District, and Ryan Frazier over Ed Perlmutter in the Seventh District. Dr. Mike Fallon and Stephen Bailey are running spirited campaigns in the First and Second Districts respectively.?I am proud to stand with Ken Buck, John Suthers, Scott Gessler, Walker Stapleton, Doug Lamborn, Mike Coffman, Mike Fallon, Stephen Bailey, Scott Tipton, Cory Gardner, Ryan Frazier, and our outstanding candidates for the state legislature.”

Wadhams said Maes’ continued candidacy in the race practically ensures that Hickenlooper will become Colorado’s next governor.

“The only way Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper could win this election for governor is by being handed the kind of race he was today by Dan Maes and Tom Tancredo,” Wadhams said.

Past GOP guv candidate backs Tancredo
Schuck, a longtime Colorado Springs real estate developer, said he is also terribly disheartened and disappointed that Maes refused to drop out of the race, especially since it has become clear that his candidacy hurts other GOP candidates down the ballot.

He also expressed gratitude and appreciation to Tancredo for intervening in the race to try to get Maes to withdraw.

“He’s the hero in this whole thing,” said Schuck Friday afternoon. “His move to the ACP was a noble gesture to salvage all that could be saved for our party. I am committing to him for governor.”

Schuck added that the latest developments in the race provide an opportunity for other Republicans to demonstrate support for “the one guy who put his body in front of the tank,” referring to Tancredo. And for those who might think Tancredo’s entrance into the race had to do with ego or a sense of narcissism, Schuck quickly doused such speculation.

“Everything that Tom did was as a patriot and a conservative,” Schuck said. “He warned us of the shortcomings of the nominee and chose to do something about the problem. I’m prepared and committed to go down the line for him.”

Not everyone agrees with Schuck’s decision.

Several other prominent Republicans earlier aligned with Democrat Hickenlooper, including wealthy businessmen Larry Mizel and Greg Maffei, who are hosting a bipartisan fundraiser for Hickenlooper later this month.

And former Denver County GOP chair Smith told The Statesman this week that she considers Hickenlooper “eminently qualified” to be the next governor.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com
Ernest@coloradostatesman.com