Wadhams’ storied career as GOP Chair draws to close

The Colorado Statesman

If you had the tenacity to go through the pages of The Colorado Statesman from the last three decades — 33 years, to be exact, which is how long I’ve been associated with the newspaper — there’s probably no other name that has graced our pages more often than that of Dick Wadhams.

Dick Wadhams watches as newly elected Gov. Bill Owens talks with the press on Election Night of 1998.
File photo by The Colorado Statesman
Dick Wadhams shows his colors at the 2008 GOP convention in Minnesota.
File photo by The Colorado Statesman
Back in the late 1970s, a young Dick Wadhams shares a dance with former legislator Betty Ann Dittemore of Arapahoe County.
File photo by The Colorado Statesman
Campaign manager Dick Wadhams and Sen. Wayne Allard on election night of 2002.
File photo by The Colorado Statesman
Dick Wadhams stands in front of a homemade sign which became a trademark of the campaign against Democratic Senate candidate Tom Strickland.
File photo by The Colorado Statesman
Dick Wadhams and one of his mentors, Karl Rove, at a Denver stopover.
File photo by The Colorado Statesman
Tree hugger Dick Wadhams shows that his Republicans are conscious of the environment during the 2008 state convention.
File photo by The Colorado Statesman
Former State Treasurer Mike Coffman, GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams and “George W. Bush” at a political event in 2005.
File photo by The Colorado Statesman
Dick Wadhams and Antonette DeLauro (now Antonette Smith).
File photo by The Colorado Statesman
Kelli Fritts, Dick Wadhams and former state Rep. Karen Middleton at The Statesman’s “50 for the Future” party in 2007.
File photo by The Colorado Statesman

He has been quoted time and time again over the many years — sometimes blasted by the opposition, other times adorned with titles such as political wunderkind — but almost always with the knowledge that his remarks were going to attract attention.

In fact, during the course of the Colorado campaigns he’s worked on — from 1981 to 1989 it was U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong’s, then on the statewide campaigns of U.S. Senator Hank Brown in 1990 and U.S. Senator Wayne Allard in 1996 and 2002, and as campaign manager for Governor Bill Owens in 1998 when Owens became the first Republican governor of Colorado in 24 years — Wadhams was typically quoted more than the actual candidate.

That could be either good or bad for the candidate, but from a reporter’s point of view it was always fun. We knew that when we called Wadhams for a quote, whether about Gov. Roy Romer, Democratic Senate candidate Tom Strickland or even Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes in 2010, Wadhams was usually going to have something outrageous — and highly quotable — for the press. Most reporters, including myself, relished covering campaigns where Wadhams was involved. We knew we were never going to lack for great copy.

Remember that famous moniker Wadhams branded on Strickland — “lawyer-lobbyist”? During all those months in the Allard-Strickland campaign, there was nary a time when the term wasn’t used by the Republican operative to signify opponent Strickland. It became part of the Colorado political vernacular, only to be dredged up in 2010 and used this time against a Republican, Scott McInnis, who was running for office.

When Mark Udall ran for the U.S. Senate, Wadhams was determined to drub the Democratic congressman with a liberal Boulder label and his name soon became “Boulder resident Mark Udall,” as if the geographical identification was an official part of the Democratic candidate’s name. The phrase was always spoon fed to reporters to hopefully find its way into their stories. (For the record, Udall lived in Eldorado Springs, which though still part of the county, was several miles outside of Boulder.)

Even when Wadhams was out of the state, politicos from both sides of the aisle followed his career — some, we surmise, thankful they weren’t going up against him in another campaign, others more out of curiosity and maybe a little pride in their boy from back home who was playing in the big leagues.

Wadhams was campaign manager for U.S. Senator John Thune of South Dakota in 2004 when Thune defeated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, the first time in 52 years a sitting Senate Democratic leader was defeated for reelection. He also helped Montana U.S. Senator Conrad Burns in his successful reelection campaigns in 1994 and 2000. He served as Chief of Staff for U.S. Senator George Allen of Virginia in 2005-2006, even talked about as the one who could possibly take Allen all the way to the White House.

Wadhams’ tenure as chairman of the Colorado Republican Party is drawing to a close. But the future of this rural southeastern Coloradan who first served as a Republican county chairman at age 19 in 1975-1976 is far from over.

We’ll be waiting for the next chapter.

See entire five-page tribute to Dick Wadhams in the March 25 print edition of The Colorado Statesman.