Wadhams to run for a third term as GOP State Chairman

The Colorado Statesman

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams announced Tuesday he is running for a third term.

“I want to serve as state chairman during the 2012 election cycle because of the extraordinary opportunities Colorado Republicans have to dramatically impact our state and nation,” Wadhams said in a lengthy e-mail to state Republicans.

Republicans will pick a party chair in March, but lingering discontent among party faithful could make a bid for another two-year term difficult for Wadhams, who cruised to re-election two years ago with 85 percent of the vote against two little-known challengers.

Over the last year, Wadhams took flak from the ranks over how he handled divisive primaries and a third-party run by gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman, who wound up with more than three times as many votes as the GOP nominee. And while Colorado Republicans posted impressive wins in November, Democrats won the state’s two top races, stemming a red tide that swept Republican senators and governors into office across the country.

The only announced candidates opposing Wadhams so far are John Wagner, who ran the hapless campaign of Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Cleve Tidwell, and recent Colorado transplant Bart Baron, who ran for Congress in Michigan. But conservatives and Tea Party supporters have promised to field a challenger up to the task of knocking down Wadhams, a fixture in state politics for decades.

One potential challenge is former state Sen. Tom Wiens, who launched a brief campaign for U.S. Senate but failed to make the primary ballot. Last month, a group of Republican Party officers, current and former elected officials and conservative organizers settled on Wiens as the best candidate to take on Wadhams but so far, the Douglas County rancher has demurred in public. “Being state chair is the most thankless job in the state,” Wiens told The Colorado Statesman late last month. “I do not lay awake at night thinking about it, although I am worried about the future of the party.”

In the e-mail to state Republicans, Wadhams acknowledges the past election yielded “disappointments,” including a governor’s race he termed a “soap opera” and GOP nominee Ken Buck’s narrow loss of the U.S. Senate seat to Democrat Michael Bennet, events Wadhams notes “were frustrating for all of us.”

Last summer and fall Wadhams took heat from Republicans who accused the chairman of failing to vet GOP gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes, who garnered a bare 11 percent of the vote in the November election after Tancredo jumped into the race as a conservative third-party candidate against the eventual winner, Democrat John Hickenlooper.

Critics also blasted Wadhams for first backing Maes after the Evergreen businessman upset former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis in the August primary, and then pulling his support after Maes came under scrutiny for exaggerating his resume, among other problems that bedeviled his rookie campaign.

“But we also had some extraordinary victories that Colorado Republicans have not experienced for years if not decades,” Wadhams counters in his e-mail.

In the last election, Wadhams points out, Republicans unseated two members of Congress and two statewide officials — feats no party has accomplished in Colorado since at least the early 1970s — and won back a majority in the Colorado House of Representatives for the first time since Democrats took control in 2004.

Wadhams says in his e-mail that the unusual circumstances of the 2012 election, with only the presidential race appearing statewide on Colorado ballots, will give state Republicans a rare opportunity. The party’s “entire statewide focus will be on defeating President Obama and giving our nine electoral votes to the eventual Republican nominee,” Wadhams writes, adding that “Colorado will be one of a handful of states that will determine the presidency in 2012 because of the possibility it will shift from Blue to Red.”

In order to capitalize on Colorado’s status as a key state, Wadhams says he plans to propose a change to Republican bylaws this fall to make the 2012 preference poll held at causes binding on national delegates. “Making the poll binding will enhance the role Colorado Republicans will play in what will be a very competitive presidential nominating process,” he says.

Wadhams notes in his e-mail that he ran some of the signature Republican campaigns of the last two decades, including the ones that elected U.S. Sens. Hank Brown and Wayne Allard and Gov. Bill Owens, the only Republican to win that office in 40 years. Wadhams also helmed the winning campaigns of U.S. Sens. Conrad Burns of Montana and John Thune of South Dakota, the latter who made national headlines by unseating Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Calling those campaigns “all exhilarating, consequential election victories,” Wadhams goes on to say, “But as someone whose family came to this great state more than 120 years ago, serving as Colorado Republican Chairman has been the most gratifying and proudest challenge of all.”

Wadhams’ Democratic counterpart, three-term state party chair Pat Waak, announced at the end of the year she wouldn’t be seeking a fourth term. Candidates to replace her so far include former state Sen. Polly Baca, who has held nearly every office in the Democratic Party over five decades; former Larimer County Chair Adam Bowen, who lost a bid for county commissioner this year; and longtime legislative aide Rick Palacio, who most recently served on the staff of former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in Washington, D.C.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com