Victory lies in values, Republican leaders say

'Our message is sound and doesn't need changing'

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Sip the coffee; smell reality in the icy air!

Republicans — still swooning over the dizzying Democratic Party victories of 2008 — have just encountered a bad omen for 2010.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar launched his first re-election bid fundraiser and scooped up more than $400,000 — with lots of that cash coming from Republican heavy hitters, including Stewart Bliss, Bill Coors, Martin Mart, Greg Maffei, Larry Mizel, Blair Richardson and Daniel Ritchie.

That not only daunts Republican candidates who hope to run against Salazar, it also sends shudders to those seeking to challenge Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter in 2010.

On Nov. 4, Republicans took solace in adding a couple of legislative seats and securing safe seats for Doug Lamborn in the 5th Congressional District and Mike Coffman in the 6th.

But the GOP endured “blue news” as Barack Obama won the state and Congressman Mark Udall took the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Wayne Allard. When the dust had settled, Democrats possessed all statewide seats with the exception of attorney general and had kept their majorities in the state House and Senate.

In the third part of this series on Colorado’s Republican Party, we share views offered by Allard; Dan Caplis, attorney and award-winning co-host of KHOW’s Caplis & Silverman show; Marc Holtzman, Colorado’s first secretary of technology, former president of the University of Denver and a 2006 gubernatorial candidate; Lamborn, who served 11 years in the Colorado Legislature before going to Congress in 2007; and longtime GOP activist and former Arapahoe County Republican Party Chair Mort Marks.

Question: As the party moves into the 2010 election, do you think the state GOP needs to change its message to attract more voters — particularly women, minorities and young adults? If so, how do you envision the message?

• Allard: “You win elections with a broad-based approach, not by catering to special interests. I think the message of the GOP — fiscal responsibility, energy independence, local control, strong national defense, low taxation and economic freedom — is sound and doesn’t need changing. I think that message appeals to everyone. It’s a message of opportunity and security.”

Allard said the GOP went through similar political cycles in 1976 and 1992, and effectively rebuilt the grassroots during the post-election months.

“This lets new leaders develop, and they will be the ones to advance our party next time,” he said. “Some of the local leaders at a lower level who did well last election will now grow into higher level candidates.”

• Caplis: “To attract more voters, we need to field candidates who connect with those voters. We need to stick to our values because they are the right values. We need to become the party of great ideas again — ideas that match our values, and give people real hope for a better life and society.”

• Holtzman: “The Republican Party must articulate a vision of hope and growth. This message must clearly describe how we as Coloradans can most effectively and competitively educate our children, promote policies which will stimulate job creation on an epic scale and take full advantage of our abundant natural resources in an ecologically and environmentally friendly way. By stressing innovation and embracing policies of compassionate fiscal responsibility and low taxes as well as making Colorado a global center for alternative energy solutions, my party would regain the momentum to roar back to health.”

• Lamborn: “It’s not the state party that sets the agenda for most voters, but rather the public officials they have elected,” said Lamborn. “Republicans need to stick to the basics rather than fashion a new message.”

“Republicans in Washington — including President Bush — muddied the waters in recent years by spending too much and deviating in other ways from core Republican values,” said Lamborn, defining those values as “being good stewards of taxpayer dollars and promoting free markets for energy and health care so American families can pay for these things at affordable prices.”

• Marks: “The Republican Party hasn’t had a message since President Reagan left office,” said Marks, recalling Reagan’s advocacy of a “Big Tent” approach, which drew women, minorities and younger voters to the party.

He said Reagan’s momentum began to erode during President George H. Bush’s tenure.

“We went wild when Bush said, ‘Read my lips, no new taxes,’ at the 1988 Republican National Convention. Two years later, he raised taxes!” recalled Marks. “He became a politician who didn’t live up to his word.”

That was the beginning of Republican politicians — primarily in Congress — ignoring the basic tenets of low taxes, smaller government, free enterprise and balanced budgets, Marks said.

Question: Who are some up-and-coming young Republican leaders who can attract 18-to-24-year-old voters to the state party?

• Allard: “I am partial to former staffers of mine who are in office,” he said, pointing to House Minority Whip Cory Gardner, of Yuma; Rep. Frank McNulty, of Highlands Ranch; and Sen. Greg Brophy, of Wray. Allard is also enthusiastic about the political future of staffer Kristine Penry-Pollard’s brother — Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, of Grand Junction.

• Caplis: Penry; Gardner; Kristi Burton, who co-authored Amendment 48; Monica Owens, daughter of former Gov. Bill Owens; Sergio Gutierrez, a former aide to Owens and public communications director for the Archdiocese of Denver; Wil Armstrong, son of former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong; Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, and John Lynch, the former Broncos safety who stumped for John McCain.

• Holtzman: Topping his list are Penry, Gardner, Rep. Ellen Roberts, of Durango, and Frazier.

“They have all proved to be articulate and effective spokespeople for responsible good government. All have appeal to young voters.”

• Lamborn: “Younger voters are savvier than to base their voting preferences on a candidate’s age. Message trumps age any day. The Republican message of personal responsibility and careful spending will resonate with voters of all ages, including younger voters.”

• Marks: “I think the most important leader is the state Republican Party chair.”

He said that state GOP chair Wadhams, “told the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club this week that he will work on the idea of drawing more young people, women and minorities to the party. He is already developing programs to do this. I think it’s great and it’s what we need.”

Question: As part of the “big tent” concept, some Republicans want to downplay social issues — conservative and moderate — and play up more inclusive issues that resonate with voters, such as stabilizing the economy, creating jobs and developing energy independence. What is your opinion?

• Allard: “The problem is that the other side isn’t doing that. The liberal Democrats are still pushing as hard as ever for their social issues. We have been playing defense, and I would hate to cede the issues to them. And they appear to be trying harder and harder to drag the courts into matters where they can’t get the votes.

“Certainly the non-social side of policy — fiscal, defense and energy, for instance — should be as important, and some might have lost sight of that. I have always sought out a broadly supported approach to social as well as fiscal issues. We have done that before and will have to do it again.”

• Caplis: “As a wise person once said, ‘If we deny our values to win more elections, we will lose both.’

“We should stand up and fight for everything we believe in. More voters will be attracted to a party that has the courage of its convictions.”

He believes most voters share the GOP’s conservative fiscal and social values.

“We just need to do a better job of defining who we are and what we really stand for, rather than letting Democratic Party activists define us.”

• Holtzman: “This is not a mutually exclusive proposition. Sound economic growth policies appeal to people who also embrace traditional family values shared by the vast majority of our fellow citizens.”

• Lamborn: “Republican and conservative principles can and should be applied to social, fiscal and security issues in ways that resonate with the majority of American voters,” responded Lamborn, adding that “conservative principles simply work better than liberal principles in real life.”

• Marks: “I have great faith in the Republican Party — we’re not split into factions… Too many Republicans are buying the Democrats’ propaganda that we’re a fractured party. That’s not true.”

He said it’s very important to pick candidates who stand for the traditional values of the party — and deliver a positive message of what they “stand for — not what they’re against.”

An example, Marks said, was the 6th District primary race, in which some Republicans favored Wil Armstrong because of his father, former Sen. Bill Armstrong. Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman won the primary “because he stood for basic Republican principles and ran a positive campaign.”

Question: The Democratic Party’s grassroots effort — primarily mobilized by President-elect Obama’s campaign — is being discussed as a role model for the Republican Party. What changes do you think need to be made to recruit candidates, help campaigns and get out the vote in Colorado?

• Allard: “Every election is a lesson. The GOP had an advantage on the grassroots side in 2000 and 2004. Democrats learned from that. Now we are behind. We will have to study and see how to improve.”

Allard attributed the Democratic Party’s growth in recent years to “the spending from four multimillionaires — not grassroots.” The state GOP needs to develop a more diverse donor base, Allard said, and “not rely on a few big givers.”

• Caplis: “The reason the Obama model worked is because people got excited about Obama. We need candidates who will motivate and excite people. We need to tap into the sea of great potential candidates who are living and working in the real world, rather than limit ourselves to the small pond of political professionals.”

As for tapping top candidates and mobilizing Republicans in the 2010 election cycle, Caplis said Wadhams is the guy to lead the state GOP.

• Holtzman: “Each election cycle sees the pioneering use of new and impressive technologies. No single party has a monopoly on innovation. In this last election, President-elect Obama’s campaign made much better and more effective use of this. Certainly, my party can learn from the effective and efficient deployment of these tools to better deliver our message to voters.”

Holtzman advocates re-electing Wadhams as state GOP chair, and described Wadhams as “one of the most skillful political managers in the nation. We are blessed to have the benefit of his leadership here in Colorado.”

• Lamborn: “By getting back to basics, being positive and focusing on solutions to real-life problems, we will reignite the passion in party activists as well as appeal to a broad swath of middle-of-the-road voters. That is a winning strategy.”

Regarding state GOP leadership in the next election cycle, Lamborn said, “I will wait and see who the candidates are for this post before stating any preferences publicly.”

• Marks: “The Democratic Party’s grassroots campaign was superb. However, I don’t think the Republican Party needs to borrow anything from Obama or the Democrats. We need to learn from our successful Republican candidates, such as David Balmer.”

Assistant House Minority Leader Balmer, of Centennial, won re-election “by knocking on 90 percent of the doors in his district,” said Marks. “That’s winning the old-fashioned way — and it still works.”

Obama’s campaign caught a tailwind, Marks said, just as “we got hit with an economic recession and President Bush sounded like a horse’s ass. People didn’t vote against John McCain — they voted against Bush.”

McCain’s campaign in Colorado imported staff from Georgia, Texas, California and other states, Marks said, and the newcomers couldn’t find a local thoroughfare such as Arapahoe Road, much less reach grassroots Republicans.

Republican candidates should “wage positive campaigns on the issues and not engage in negative attacks on their opponents. And after they’re elected, keep their promises,” advised Marks.