GOP chair candidate ranks could swell

The Colorado Statesman

The race for Colorado Republican Party chair was upended this week by two-term Chairman Dick Wadhams’ unexpected withdrawal but the dust might not have settled yet. Three prominent Republicans are considering getting into the race next week, The Colorado Statesman has learned, including a former statewide candidate and two local chairmen from key swing counties.

Jefferson County GOP Chairman Don Ytterberg, his Larimer County counterpart Larry Carillo, and Cleve Tidwell, the international businessman who failed to make the ballot in last year’s U.S. Senate Primary, all told The Statesman they have spent the last week pondering whether to run for the state Republican Party’s top job at the March 26 central committee meeting.

Three candidates are already in the running: state Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, state party legal counsel Ryan Call, and recent Michigan transplant Barton Baron, who is running on a ticket with Tidwell’s former campaign manager as a vice chair candidate. Call — who chaired the Denver GOP until last weekend's local party elections, when he declined to seek a second term — jumped into the race a day after Wadhams dropped out.

In his letter quitting the race, Wadhams said he was tired of Republicans who see “conspiracies around every corner and who have terribly misguided notions of what the role of the state party is.” He also warned against chair candidates who promise to unite conservatives at a cost of pushing away moderates and unaffiliated voters, which he said would jeopardize GOP chances of winning in Colorado.

Ytterberg said he has been considering whether the state party would benefit from the organizational and party-building skills he has honed in one of the state’s top battleground counties.

“I have been thinking about getting in,” Ytterberg said Friday afternoon. “We had some successes in Jefferson County. I believe we could have a model that could work at the next level.”

Ytterberg, who won another term leading Jeffco Republicans at the county central committee meeting on Tuesday in Lakewood, said there are a number of factors he is weighing in his decision.

“It’s a matter of determining what’s best for the team,” he said, adding that he realizes he “can’t deliberate for too long,” since chair candidates start attending forums next week.

Ytterberg could offer an alternative to Republicans who want a fresh face leading the party but who have qualms about supporting Harvey because of the lawmaker’s endorsement of third-party gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo in last fall’s election.

During the divisive 2010 gubernatorial election, Tancredo bolted the Republican Party to run under the American Constitution Party banner and wound up with more than three times as many votes as Republican nominee Dan Maes, who upset former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis in the Republican primary after a plagiarism scandal derailed his campaign. Across the state, local Republicans split over which candidate to back, and charges flew that local GOP officers violated party rules by supporting Tancredo instead of the Republican nominee.

Ytterberg’s hands are clean, he pointed out.

“I was bound by the bylaws of Jefferson County — bound to the Republican candidate,” he said. “I was not able then to recommend or to endorse Tom Tancredo, despite the fact that the race became very difficult.”

Call could face an internal backlash of his own over concerns he publicly championed U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton over primary rival Ken Buck, who went on to win the nomination but lose the general election to Democrat Michael Bennet.

“All rules have been thrown out to help Norton this year,” complained a Buck supporter in an e-mail to The Statesman last summer just hours after Call rallied volunteers at Denver GOP headquarters for Norton during an endorsement visit by former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Carillo said Republicans have been urging him to run for state party chair and he’s been giving it plenty of thought this week, especially after Wadhams pulled out. He’s gotten phone calls and e-mails from around the state — surprisingly, he said, since Larimer County isn’t always considered in the thick of things in Colorado. But those urging him to run point to his success bringing together Republicans of all sorts, including passionate Tea Party and 9/12 groups who bemoan the cold shoulders they’ve gotten from party regulars elsewhere in the state.

“We’ve managed to find a seat at the table for everyone,” Carillo said. That ability would serve the state party well, those urging him to run have said.

Carillo told The Statesman he plans to make an announcement about his intentions on Monday.

Of all the possible candidates, Tidwell sounded least involved in a potential run.

“I’m just down here to see the fireworks,” Tidwell said with a chuckle from the sidelines at the Douglas County GOP central committee meeting Thursday night in Castle Rock. Tidwell told The Statesman he was thinking more about finding a sunny place to go fishing than he was about running for anything. But, when pressed, he admitted the thought of running for state party chair has crossed his mind.

“I’ve had a lot of — naturally, out of courtesy, people just being nice — I’ve had a lot of push to run for the chair,” Tidwell said and then declined to comment on his plans.

He said that Call’s entry into the race was what triggered the pressure on him to run. “That’s when the calls started,” he said, grinning ear-to-ear.

But he was firm that he hadn’t made a decision. “Believe me, I would tell you,” he said and then smiled at his companion, whom he jokingly called his campaign manager. “You can mention you saw us here.”

None of the potential candidates would own up to being the one poised to receive an endorsement from Maes, hinted at in a blog post late Thursday by The Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels. (Wadhams, who publicly tangled with both Maes and Tancredo throughout the fall campaign, mocked the third-place finisher, asking Bartels why on earth anyone would want an endorsement from Maes.)

For his part, Maes unleashed a broadside against Harvey in an email sent to supporters early last week. Comparing Tea Party activists to the brave soldiers at the Alamo, Maes called on conservatives to “Remember November!” and reject Republicans — including Harvey, repeatedly branded “a traitor” by Maes — who sided with Tancredo in the election.

“My apologies in advance to my dear friends and supporters in Douglas County,” Maes writes, “but Senator Ted Harvey is a traitor and participated in the attack of the peoples' candidate to aid and assist the old guard mentality that would not accept the hard work and dedication of the revolution.”

Maes told Bartels to expect an announcement from the new candidate “in a few days,” and added that it would be a name she would recognize.

A number of candidate forums for state GOP chair candidates have been set for around the state starting this week. The first one is at the Granby Library on Feb. 16, followed by events sponsored by an organization called R Block Party, which has scheduled forums for Feb. 21 in Northglenn and Feb. 24 in Littleton. Candidates will also gather in Wheat Ridge on March 10.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com