GOP headed for leadership turmoil, battle

McInnis, Hesse ready to take on Wadhams

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Democrats were dancing in the street, cheering from car roofs and honking horns in an ecstatic celebration over Barack Obama’s presidential election. The “rock out” in Denver looked and sounded like a riotous reaction to the Broncos winning the Super Bowl.

“Colorado is an independent state,” said Senator-elect Mark Udall, assessing the outcome of the Nov. 4 election. “I don’t think it’s a blue state or a red state. This is a red, white and blue state.”

After taking another beating — the third since 2004 — Republicans might view Colorado as a “black and blue” state.

There were more mourners than revelers at the McCain-Palin campaign parties in Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction. The shell-shocked gatherings watched returns, sipped cocktails and groused about early projections of Dem victories, Obama and the rest of the “liberal” Democrats.

“It was a serious butt-kicking,” said Bob Moody, a lobbyist, at the Republican “victory” party in the Marriott Hotel in Lone Tree. “Colorado experienced a huge shift to the left tonight.”

Moody grumbled that McCain had been hurt by an ineffective Republican Party, the Wall Street crash and anti-George Bush sentiment — and not by his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

“The problem goes back to the 2000 election, when the ‘George Bush-is-an-idiot’ ticket won,” said Moody, theorizing that the results in 2000 had led to the election of more and more Democrats in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

“How damaged will small businesses be before the pendulum swings back from the left?” asked Kathie Barstnar, owner of Whiting Management Resources in Denver. “Republicans are going to wake up in shock tomorrow.”

The election nightmare didn’t surprise Republicans who were endowed with extra-sensory perception — a group that might be defined to include pollsters, former 3rd Congressional District Rep. Scott McInnis and McInnis former chief of staff Mike Hesse.

Over the past three months, McInnis and Hesse have been building a coalition to oust state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams when the Colorado Republican Central Committee convenes to elect party officers in March. They perceive Wadhams as too conservative and part of the “good old boys club.” And that combination, they contend, makes it impossible for Wadhams to move the state party toward moderation.

A week before the general election, McInnis dropped the bomb that he thought he would have been a better U.S. Senate candidate than former Congressman Bob Schaffer. Fallout ensued after his boast was reported in the Oct. 28 Colorado Independent, a left-leaning Web site.

“I don’t know what’s up with that,” said Wadhams, adding that McInnis called Schaffer and him to apologize for the criticisms. Wadhams, who usually can be relied on to be blatantly candid, was mum about the rumored overthrow plot.

The state GOP chairman is caught in a Catch 22 — perceived as too conservative for moderates and as too liberal for social conservatives.

Leslie Hanks, of Colorado Right to Life, wrote a column blasting the chairman for denying pro-life groups but allowing pro-choice organizations to distribute materials at the state party convention in June. After the election, Wadhams and the Republican leadership were blamed for the defeat of Amendment 48, the Personhood Amendment.

Meanwhile, pro-choice Republicans were outraged to receive a pro-life voter registration form and mailer from the state GOP.

“It will never happen again,” declared Wadhams, who had seemed unaware of both the pro-choice and pro-life incidents.

As the Democrats celebrate diversity, the Republicans are trying to push each other out of the “big tent.” Embroiled in this shoving match are isolationists, neoconservatives, libertarians, social conservatives and traditional fiscal conservatives.

But Reagan Republicans, the initial boosters of the “big tent” view, seem to be missing in action.

In the 1984 election, the state GOP pushed to enroll more women, young adults and ethnic groups. But the tent began shrinking after the 2000 election, when George W. Bush won the presidential election by a slim margin with assistance from the ballot fiasco in Florida.

“We are not going to say anything about this year’s elections until we’ve had time to look at hard facts and data,” said Tom Kise, state director for the McCain-Palin campaign.

Kise said the campaign will work with the state party to review election results in each county, advertising dollars and ad content, voter registrations and turnout, strategies for getting out the vote, etc. They will compare the strategies implemented by the Colorado GOP to the results in another state where the Republicans did better.

“Those are things we’ll be looking at in the future for the party,” said Kise, who recently returned to his home in Sacramento.

Wadhams said the party also will review the campaigns of candidates from the local level on up, to assess what they did right and what needs retuning. Some things, he said, were beyond the party’s control such as Obama’s charisma and grassroots organization, which swept voters to the polls.

McCain, Schaffer and all Republican candidates had to overcome the “anti-Bush” sentiment and the Wall Street collapse and bailout, Wadhams added.

“I truly believe that if McCain had voted against the bailout — that would have been consistent with McCain’s record — the election outcome would be different,” Wadhams said. “I think it would have changed what happened in the presidential race and it would have helped Republican candidates across the country.”

Regarding the GOP’s future path, Wadhams cautioned against repeatedly holding up one hero: Ronald Reagan.

“His beliefs are very relevant today,” said Wadhams of Reagan’s advocacy for lower taxes, less government and a strong national defense.

The problem, Wadhams said, is that although Reagan appeals to older Republicans, his name does nothing for anyone under the age of 35.

“They’re too young to identify with a president who left office 20 years ago,” said Wadhams, who aims to infuse new energy in the party, welcome diversity and promote a “positive agenda.”

Before the state Republican Central Committee convenes in March, more candidates for the chairmanship will emerge.

The current choices are Wadhams, and, possibly, Hesse.

Wadhams was elected party chairman in 2007 and inherited a disorganized party that was $580,000 in debt. In addition to heading the state GOP, he served as manager for Schaffer’s campaign. A Colorado native, Wadhams has worked for U.S. Senators Wayne Allard, Hank Brown and Bill Armstrong and Gov. Bill Owens.

Hesse worked for Western Heritage, a 527 committee; ran Bentley Rayburn’s unsuccessful CD 5 campaign in 2008; served as press secretary to the Colorado Board of Regents in 2005; was chief of staff for Nevada Congessman Jon Porter in 2006, and held the same position for McInnis from 1998 to 2004. He was executive director of the Colorado Republican Party from 1992 to 1995.

This isn’t the first time Colorado Republicans have declared war on each other in the final days of a general election.

In October 1998, state GOP Chair Steve Curtis said he wasn’t sure he could support Bill Owens’ bid for governor. Curtis also withheld endorsement from then-state Rep. Marcy Morrison of Colorado Springs because he said both candidates were too left wing for him.

Former state Rep. Barbara Philips, who served as state GOP vice chair, held a meeting to consider removing Curtis as chair. Curtis got wind of that conspiracy and changed the door locks at party headquarters to keep Philips and her friends out.

When the New York Times asked about the struggle, Curtis responded,“It’s class warfare.”

Nevertheless, Owens won the 1998 election (without an endorsement from Curtis), and Republicans controlled the state House and Senate. Morrison is now Colorado’s Insurance Commissioner. Curtis is president of American Right to Life.

Before the 2009 warfare erupts, Republicans might want to consider the lyrics of Edwin Starr’s hit song, “War:”

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing!
Say it again, y’all…