Pat Waak, Democratic State Chair
By Jason Kosena and Jody Hope Strogoff
Democratic State Chair Pat Waak sat down for a wide-ranging interview with The Colorado Statesman last week as she gets set for a third term as leader of the party.
The Q&A with Waak included her thoughts on Gov. Bill Ritter’s choice of Michael Bennet to replace Ken Salazar in the Senate, how her leadership style differs from Colorado Republican Chairman Dick Wadhams and her thoughts on how the Democrats can keep the momentum going when they don’t have the “change” token and George Bush to campaign on in a couple of years.
See page 6 for Waak’s candid conversation with The Colorado Statesman.
Colorado Statesman (CS): This has been an incredible time for Democrats in the state. How do you view your last couple of years as state chair?
Pat Waak (PW): To me, it’s been four years. Basically, when I came in (as state chair) in 2005, we’d already made that shift somewhat in 2004 with both the Salazars winning their elections and getting control of the (Colorado) House.
And then, after that, there were several things that happened. I came in with the idea that we were going to do a 64-county strategy. I know the Denver metro area is where the votes are, but every single vote in this state counts in one way or another, so we had to be present everywhere.
I think I’ve put 100,000 miles on my car at this point.
But I wanted to know what the issues were. I wanted to know who the people were. I wanted to know what they saw as keeping them from being as effective as they could be.
And there were several things that happened right in the beginning that were a surprise to me.
One is the number of Republicans who showed up when I would go places. They would come and whisper to me that they were Republicans or they used to be Republicans. And I didn’t expect that.
The other thing was that, in talking to county chairs, they told me that when candidates showed up (in their counties), their elections went really well.
So it’s that old political adage: 90 percent of it is just showing up.
I’d hear, “My county didn’t do so well for so-and-so, but we elected all our local Democratic officials.”
And I’d say, “What’s that about?”
And they said, “Well, that candidate didn’t come to my county.”
I believe that (showing up makes all the difference) because I’m a grassroots person anyway. But it was validation over and over again.
In 2005, we had a terrible voter file and it was the number one issue that everybody talked about. So I got criticized a bit, but I hired a tech guy. I told him he had to have an advisory committee. I think there were 180 people who sat in on those meetings. And we picked all new software and started working with a brand-new voter file
We used that software in the election on Ref C and D, so it was in place. We were lucky enough in 2006 — I think it was 2006 — that the DNC started picking up the cost for it.
CS: Is it expensive?
PW: It is expensive. You’re paying a monthly fee for all the exchanges and things that go with that. Plus, you’re doing updates with the Secretary of State’s Office and with the counties during campaigns. And you have to pay for those files.
And, then, if you’ve got to hire someone to do all that, it’s a pretty hefty expense.
Between 2003 and 2005, our budget doubled. I think their budget in 2003 was like $250,000. And we spent over $600,000.
But we invested in more staff and more technology. And we really spent a lot more time in the field than we had before.
I see all those as little things that begin to pay off.
CS: Were you surprised that Denver got the Democratic National Convention last year?
PW: I love all the people who take credit for bringing the convention to Denver, and I think all of them played a role. But the fact of the matter is, since 2006, those of us in the Interior West had been saying to the DNC, “Look west! Look west! Look what’s happening in the West!”
And when we won our governor’s race, the DNC started to look west. And I think that part of that decision to come here with the convention was because they got the message.
CS: Plus, other western states had good records.
PW: Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, even Arizona had a Democratic governor.
Those were all very significant.
At least they were showing that there was movement and transition in those states.
If you’d asked me in 2005, “Do you expect to have 128,000 people show up for caucus?” I would have said, “That’s the craziest thing I ever heard.”
We thought we were being crazy when we speculated maybe 30,000 people would show up.
If you had asked me whether we would register almost 240,000 new Democratic voters, I would have said, “That would be insane.”
If you had said, “You’re going to hold the DNC in Denver,” I’d have said, “No way.”
Had you asked, “Are you going to be a battleground state?” I would have said, “No.” I’ve been in and out of politics for 40 years, and I’ve never worked in a battleground state.
And, of course, if you had said, “The president’s going to come outside the Beltway and sign his economics statement here.”
I mean, these are all huge transitions in the Democratic Party.
CS: How much of it do you think had to do with an unpopular president and a Republican Party that had fallen out of favor, even with some of its own? Not to mention a Democratic candidate who really energized people to come out and participate? Do you think such growth is sustainable?
PW: I think those are certainly all factors. They’re pieces of the puzzle.
I think the real challenge in front of the Democratic Party in this state and in other states — I’m on the Executive Committee of the Association of State Democratic Chairs — is, “How do you keep that momentum going?”
One key factor was bringing a lot of new people into the party structure who had never been involved before. And it’s heartening — but also challenging — that I can name four brand-new Democratic county chairs who had never been involved until this last year. They have just been elected during the party’s reorganization.
All the new officers are under 30. That’s exciting for the party because, after a while, we all want to retire and to choose what races we work on.
The party’s going to survive because you’ve got new, exciting young people who are coming in who want to take over the mantle.
CS: Did this happen mainly in the last election cycle?
PW: During presidential years, you always pick up new people who are getting in for the first time. It’s how I first got involved, as a college student.
New people come in because they get turned on by the presidential candidate. The magnitude of this nationwide is much, much larger.
The real question is, “How many of those people can we keep involved?”
And keep involved in the party, not in separate networks. Nationwide, the “Obama For America” network is still out there.
I believe that if you’re a Republican or an unaffiliated or a non-active Dem, and you want to be part of a network that’s going to support President Obama’s agenda and do service projects — just go do it.
I love it!
But if you’re willing to make the commitment to do the real hard party work, I want you in the party.
So it’s that sort of filtering through those folks.
We do have a few cases where unaffiliateds have changed their registration and are running for party offices, county offices and for precinct committeeperson. But, by and large, I know that there will be a group of people out there who came into this campaign because of this man (Obama). And that’s okay.
CS: You’ve got people in power now at the State House, the Senate, the governor’s office, in the U.S. Senate and for president. Sometimes in midterm presidential years,
it benefits the opposing party, and Republicans could pick up seats. Does that make you nervous?
PW: I think in the (state) Senate, we’re in great shape. In the House, I think because we had some people termed out — not so much in Denver but in some of the outlying areas — we’re taking a really close look. Because that’s where we would be most vulnerable.
And I think because of redistricting, we’re particularly conscious of that.
But you know, Terrance Carroll, in the position of leader, is already looking at working with counties, on identifying the seats that might be most vulnerable and on getting good candidates.
I came into this as someone who has been in politics and grassroots organizing for a long, long time. (I) looked at the registration numbers and said, “We’re in the bottom third. There’s only one way that we’re really going to do well, and that’s by running the very best candidates.”
One thing about the West — unlike the South or the East — people will move across party lines to support the right people.
CS: Especially in Colorado.
PW: Especially in Colorado. But anywhere in the West. That’s probably why Montana, Wyoming and New Mexico have done well.
So, from my point of view, that’s still the key. Are we running the best people? The most authentic candidates? And by that, I mean they’re really true to what they believe, even though we may disagree on things.
There’s a full range of ideologies in Colorado’s congressional delegation right now. And I’ve said the same thing to all of them: “If you’re going to vote on something that people don’t approve of, you need to be willing to turn around and say, ‘Here’s why I voted this way.’”
Because that’s all the people really want — an explanation.
Now, that’s not going to (convince) the way-way-out-left people and the way-way-out-right people. But most people are sort of in the center, and they may have strong feelings. So tell them why you voted that way. The authenticity question is huge.
The second thing that’s huge is the willingness to go and listen.
Then the next issue is whether you can solve the problem. Are you going to be honest with them about that?
If they’re good and honest and do the mechanics — unless there’s somebody running who is really much, much better — they’re going to win. It’s about knocking on doors, making those connections with people.
That’s still my philosophy. It hasn’t changed. We just have to make sure we have the right people running.
CS: Colorado has a new U.S. senator.
Were you surprised when the governor picked Michael Bennet? And do you think he is the right candidate to lead the party in the 2010 elections?
PW: I talked to the governor several times before he made that choice, so I sort of knew the track he was on, and I understand why he made that choice.
I’m not going to argue publicly with him. Anything I had to say to him, I said to him privately.
Some people were upset about the Senate appointment, but he knew that would happen. We talked about it ahead of time. No matter who (the governor) appointed, there were going to be people who were upset.
But when I compare it to what happened in New Hampshire and New York and Illinois, this is nothing.
As I said to (Ritter), “You’re in a unique place in time. You get to function as the state party by nominating a candidate. And then you function as the electorate by selecting that candidate.”
That’s a heavy burden. It’s the law, but it’s a heavy burden. So you just have to be aware that — no matter what choice you make —somebody is going to be upset about it.
CS: How well do you think Michael Bennet is being received around the state?
Quite frankly, Michael Bennet is an extraordinarily intelligent guy. None of the people who put themselves up to be candidates had the kind of breadth of experience that would have been perfect for Colorado. (He isn’t the only one who hadn’t) run statewide or worked statewide and didn’t know all the issues everywhere. So all of them were going to be at somewhat of a disadvantage to start with.
I’ve been very impressed with Michael Bennet since that selection — both on the substance side and on the political side.
He’s calling every single county chair. He’s going out to meet with people, and the people who complain because they had a favorite (candidate) call me back and say, “He’s very impressive.”
I expect him to do very well.
CS: There have been a few grumblings that there could possibly be a primary against Bennet in 2010. How do you feel about the potential of a primary race for the U.S. Senate?
PW: I’m not opposed to primaries. I think they’re fine. I just think that sometimes the resources you have to put into a primary take away from the general election.
I heard a lot of (talk about a potential primary) in the very beginning, right after his appointment. I haven’t heard much of it lately, so I don’t expect it to happen. But anything’s possible. We are Democrats, you know (laughs).
CS: So you don’t have a blanket position to discourage a primary against him?
PW: I have made a policy of talking to anybody who wants to run for office, and I would continue to do that. It’s an open process. Anybody can do whatever they want to do.
CS: How do you keep Andrew Romanoff active in the party since he has been term-limited?
PW: I actually have encouraged Andrew to think about some things he’s wanted to do for a long time, to give himself some space, to make some contributions that he’s wanted to make internationally, for example. And I know he’s been sort of looking into that. I think it’s difficult, when you’ve been speaker of the House, all of a sudden not to have a job.
I know he’s been to Washington a couple of times talking to people. You know, he speaks fluent Spanish. He worked in Nicaragua at one point. When one door shuts, another door opens for you. It doesn’t mean you totally lose contact with people here in the state.
It may be an opportunity for Andrew. He’s long wanted to do something about global poverty. Maybe this is the gap that allows him to do that.
CS: How do you foresee the race in 2010 with Governor Ritter? As the leader of the party, are you worried?
PW: I don’t worry about it. My sense is that the governor’s still extremely popular. I think that what he’s done with the energy economy in this state is phenomenal.
I think he’s got to campaign on his own strengths. I also know he’s got some enemies out there who are already spending a ton of money during the last election cycle, kind of through the back door.
We have to be aware of what’s out there — and that we’re going to have to deal with it. I’m certainly encouraging (the campaign) to get their political staff in place now, way ahead of time.
CS: It’s not too early?
PW: It’s never too early.
CS: Remember many years ago, when there was an actual break between elections?
PW: I haven’t felt one in the last four years! (Laughs.) It used to be that you could take a deep breath, take some time off, write a little poetry, write another book. You know?
It hasn’t been (like that) this time, but I think this is, in part, because we have some really serious problems in front of us — both at the state level and at the national level — that we’ve got to solve. We are all in a much more activist mode than we’ve been in the past, which is probably good, when you think about the coming elections.
CS: What about the governor’s failure to get some of his ballot initiatives passed last year?
PW: Look at all the ballot initiatives. Andrew Romanoff is possibly one of the most popular guys, but he couldn’t get Amendment 59 passed. You look at all the other ballot initiatives that just went down. I don’t know that that’s a good measure because, basically, what you’re hearing from people is, “I’m not going to vote for any of these things.”
I don’t see it as a failure on the governor’s part.
CS: Which Republicans have you heard are running for governor?
PW: I don’t want this to sound arrogant — but nobody scares me. It’s like, “If this is the person, this is the kind of background work we have to do to prepare.”
And, “If it’s this person, this is the kind of background.”
And there are some people who I expect to run for office at some time. We’re already doing background research on them, just to be prepared, because we want to know who our candidates are.
But, even then, our focus is not on trashing the other side. Our focus is on telling people why this person needs to be re-elected, in this case.
A former Republican elected official called me and asked me to go to coffee. I’m not friends with a lot of Republican (laughs) elected officials, so we went and had a two-hour
coffee. And he told me that Tom Wiens is going to run.
CS: It seems like every week someone else is thrown into the mix.
PW: There are a lot of names out there right now. Who is that guy who ran against Pete Coors last time?
CS: Marc Holtzman?
PW: I heard that he was looking at running.
What about Scotty (McInnis)?
CS: His name has been mentioned.
PW: Here’s the interesting thing: To me, the real leader of the Republican Party right now is Mike Coffman. So I’m just wondering what Mike Coffman’s going to do. I know he just got elected to the Congress.
CS: Do you think there’s a chance he’d come back and run?
PW: I know he’s dying to be governor. So I’m just wondering.
Knowing he has a terrible relationship with (GOP State Chairman Dick) Wadhams, I don’t know what would happen with all of that. Dick’s never said a nice thing about him. Never. Not one.
I just thought it was such a stitch that (Coffman) showed up at the inaugural ball.
CS: Did you see the picture of you two together in our inauguration issue?
PW: Yeah, I did. (Laughs.)
My husband said, “Oh, you’re going to get so much crap for that.”
CS: Coffman was a good sport.
PW: He was, considering that he ripped me to pieces in the Rocky Mountain News during the campaign.
CS: Did Betsy Markey’s win surprise you? Clearly that was a big coup for the
PW: It was a huge coup, and it surprised me. I thought she might win, but it would be a squeaker.
I knew what the tracking polls were. I was talking to Betsy and her campaign manager and the DCCC, and I just didn’t expect the tracking polls to hold up, quite frankly. (Laughs.)
She tracked 12 points all the way through from the early polling.
I was screaming backstage (on Election Night) because I was so excited about it. But I was surprised that it was by that much.
CS: Where do you see that race going in 2010? Do you think it’ll be different?
PW: I love the fact that there’s a lot of Republicans lining up because they’ll start tearing each other apart before we get to the general election.
Larimer County has been trending blue for quite a while. Weld County carried the governor’s race two years before by 200 votes. That’s the first time we ever won a statewide race. I’ve lived in that county for 15 years, and every couple of years I hear, “If we just had 5,000 more votes out of Weld County, we could do this.”
We registered more than 5,000 people as Democrats in Weld County.
So if Betsy can continue the kind of trend that she has in Weld County — which is carrying as many precincts as she did out of the total precincts — and still maintain her support across the Eastern Plains, I think she can win re-election.
She’s got to be out there. She’s got to be talking to the Eastern Plains folks about water and ag and all those kinds of things. And she’s got to maintain that grip she now has in Weld County.
People didn’t like (incumbent) Marilyn (Musgrave) in 2006, either. But that didn’t pull them across the line for Angie (Paccione). So I don’t want to underplay the fact that she’s going to have to work hard. But I think the numbers are there for her to pull this off in the second term.
CS: Is there any one potential Republican challenger who worries you more than others?
PW: I think Cory Gardner has some popularity, and he can be moderate on some issues. But I think he’s going to have a hard time pulling Weld and Larimer (counties).
CS: You mentioned how important Weld County is. District Attorney Ken Buck is one person who is known there.
PW: I’d love for Ken Buck to be the candidate. There is so much stuff on Ken Buck. I would love for Ken Buck to be the candidate.
CS: Are you glad that former Senate Minority Leader Mark Hillman pulled out?
PW: I think the fact that Mark has run statewide and at least has that kind of a large campaign under his belt makes him a much more formidable candidate than someone who’s just running from a rural House district or even has been a district attorney in a county.
That gives him gravitas. And he’s a fairly articulate guy. So he certainly, I think, would have been a good candidate.
CS: Speaking of Republicans, how has it been working with your counterpart in the Republican Party, Dick Wadhams?
PW: I really don’t want to talk about Dick. Dick is his own person.
I have a different philosophy about leadership, and so I’ll talk about that.
I believe that the state party chair should be a leader and should set a standard. And I believe the job of a state party chair is to build the infrastructure of the party in every place, and to make sure the best candidates are running.
It’s not about me.
I don’t need to be on the front page of the newspaper every single day, or on every TV.
I know I got a ton of press last year because of the convention. But that’s not why I’m here. If that were my motivation, I’d be running for office, not running the state party.
And I don’t believe in mudslinging politics. I really don’t. I think people are better than that.
I try to be very careful, because, every once in a while, when I’m doing a debate or a joint appearance, my little sharp tongue wants to come out. I bite it and try to move the dialogue on, because I think that’s not the kind of rhetoric people really want.
It’s my job to keep my eye on the prize, and the prize is good governance and good public service to the voters. I don’t want to be any other way. That’s not the kind of politics I learned and grew up in — and it’s not the kind of practice.
CS: Now that the Democrats are in charge, the “change” token’s going to be harder to put back in that machine and get the same results. How do you look at 2010? How do you structure a new platform that’s going to be different?
PW: It has not been the “change” issue, except for maybe the last election.
I think the election cycle before that was more focused on good public service. Who are the best people to provide the best public service to people?
It wasn’t that we didn’t have issues. When we did our first survey, health care was number one.
The Obama campaign changed the dialogue and brought in a lot of new people. The first big challenge for us for 2010 is figuring out how to keep all those people involved.
How do we help them see good governance and solving problems?
I say it over and over again: Politics is about building community. It’s about being there every single day — not just every two years, when there’s an election. It’s being out there, talking to people.
Democrats Work did a lot (of public service) during the campaign. But way before that, the Weld County Executive Committee, which I was on at that time, was doing something called Democrats at Work. We were adopting highways. We were working with the food bank. We were doing United Way drives.
We were doing all that to say, “Yes, we’re Democrats. And we’re out here working with you in the community. We care about what’s going on.”
We don’t move away from that.
I think the Obama campaign set another standard. For 2010, I want those new people involved — I want them involved in the party in substantive ways. We will not be totally successful until our registration surpasses everybody else’s. By and large, that’s our first big challenge.
The second big challenge is to really be identified as the party with solutions. We all know that solutions don’t come entirely from the federal government. They’re going to come from school boards and city councils, which are nonpartisan.
We didn’t have any Democratic elected officials when I moved into Weld County.
We started out with Ken Clark for the Fort Lupton City Council, and Pam Shaddock on the Greeley City Council, and then we elected Jim Riesberg for state representative up in Greeley. Then, finally, we carried the county for Governor Ritter.
So those are the measures that people are going to be looking for.
It’s that old adage: “Are you better off than you were a year ago?”
We can blame it on poor old George Bush if we want to. But the fact of the matter is that good government is not measured by George Bush. It’s measured by such things as “government at the grocery” with Ed Perlmutter.
I love that program.
(Ed’s) on my speed dial. He’s probably the only congressman I call when there’s an issue, and I need to get some input immediately.
I don’t do it every day — only when there’s really an issue.
He picks up the phone. “Let me call so-and-so. I’ll get back to you.”
That’s the kind of public servant that you want — somebody who’s accessible to you, who understands what you’re going through. He may say, “God, I can’t do anything about that right now. It’s too complex.” But he’s at least listening to you.
And if you’re not that kind of public servant, I don’t want you running as a Democrat, quite frankly.
CS: Bob Beauprez was on NPR this morning and said, “I couldn’t have been elected in 2002 without George Bush’s popularity, and I probably wouldn’t have lost in 2006 if it weren’t for the Republicans’ lack of popularity.” Do you think that’s true, or could there have been some other problems with his campaign, as well?
PW: Like the horse?
CS: Maybe. Sometimes it’s not just the candidate. It’s also the party’s standing at the time. Do you think there’s a risk that, with the Democrats controlling everything, especially in Colorado, voters here could have Democrat fatigue by 2012, if not 2010?
PW: Sure they could. If your total identity is by party and ideology, and not by who you are. Again, it’s the party ideologues who are going to make a choice — vote a straight Republican or a straight Democratic ticket. Versus “My congressman just really came through for me,” or “My state rep got this bill through.”
We can go out there and rally as Democrats and Republicans all we want, but the essence doesn’t come back to whether I’m on the front page of the Denver Post yelling about
Democrats. It comes back to whether (Rep.) Mark Ferrandino, for instance, is doing his job or (Rep.) Jeannie Labuda’s doing her job, or (Rep.) Wes McKinley’s doing his job.
I send e-mails.
I pull people aside at functions.
What I’m doing is not, “Here’s how you do your business.” It’s “That’s a bad bill, and if you support that, this is the disservice that you’re doing to your people in your district and the people in the state.”
And I’ve been known to do that.
Part of my job is to say, “That’s a bad bill. You’re not doing a good job with this.”
I do it so rarely that they usually listen.
This is not a game to me. We’re in a serious business with people’s lives.
I want people around me to live with a sense of control over their own life.
I want to have respect for the integrity of the work that I do, for my ability to take care of my family, to not be dependent on anybody else to bail me out.
What I want is government as a safety net.
I come from generations of farmers and cowboys. My grandfather was a sharecropper. He didn’t expect the government to bail him out. But he did want to know that — in case he hit really, really hard times — some kind of support system was there.
That’s what most people want. They don’t want somebody to pass out a check. They just want to know that somebody is out there watching out.
I think if you start looking at it from that sense instead of this rhetoric that we throw all over the place — calling people names and trying to get headlines … like this whole (anti-economic stimulus) rally (the Republicans) did up at the Capitol.
How foolish they made themselves all look!
Every time George Bush or John McCain or anybody came to town, I did a press conference to talk about the other side. I didn’t haul out pigs and stuff like that. You look childish.
If you want to come out and say, “I disagree with this approach to solving the economy, and here’s what I think the alternative to be” — that is responsible rhetoric.
But little games where you’re showing off, and you’re holding Nazi signs and stuff like that. The public thinks that’s ridiculous, for the most part.
You should hear the phone calls we get. You can just listen to some of the other radio shows. I don’t know what they gain by that.
CS: Do you think that it’s the party, or just a few people within the party?
PW: There’s an old legacy — not just in that party, but in my party as well — that says, “This is the way you do politics.”
There’s a whole different attitude about respecting people’s intellect and having respectable debate.
I’m reading Team of Rivals right now. Having respectable debate, having respectable differences so that you’re able to present those in a rational way that makes sense to people. Versus the old kind of thing. It’s trash, smear, be nasty, do things that you think are funny, but are not necessarily funny to people.
People are really tired of that. And I think that’s why a lot of that stuff that happened — for example, in the 2008 election — just backfired on people because their natural sensibilities said, “Look, I’m smart enough to see what the difference is. Let’s talk about the differences. What this means for me.”
I think this is one of Obama’s appeals.
The other reason that people got out of politics for so long was they were just tired of it. It was just nasty stuff, and they didn’t want any part of it. And here’s this guy that comes along and he starts talking about hope and he starts talking to them about the sense of possibility.
CS: How is the party financially in Colorado?
PW: We’re in good shape right now.
When I became chair, we had some money in the bank. But we had some debts that had not been paid. More importantly, there was an audit going on with the FEC, so we ended up paying a fine on that.
The first one was $105,000. And then, because we went in and audited all our books and brought them up to date, they fined us again. So I think the second one was about $45,000.
I was a cranky person (laughs) for those first few years as I tried to expand the program of the party.
So we got through that, and we came into this year with money in the bank.
I’m worried about this year.
The governor’s going to be raising money. The Congress people will be raising money. The senator’s raising money.
We had two inaugural balls that we hadn’t planned to have. The economy’s not good. We’ll have to see how willing people are (to contribute).
Now, on our side — we’ve been winning. So people want to feel like they’re part of that process. But on the other end of it, you worry about what it’s going to look like this year.
CS: Did you ever think two years ago that we would be calling Barack Obama “President”?
PW: I spent 23 years in the Washington, D.C., area in government or nonprofits, lobbying Congress. And I knew almost everyone who was running for president, the exception being the former Alaskan senator. I had known them before in other lives.
Chris Dodd and I went to the Peace Corps the same year.
And so it was a very strange, surreal kind of thing. I’d met Obama … I was sort of stepping back and watching what was going on, and then intentionally remaining neutral as long
as I could until after our state convention
But there was a point when I thought, “This guy is going to be president. He is going to do this.”
I can’t tell you exactly when it was. But watching him speak with the deliberateness and intelligence that he had, watching his calmness and his intelligence, I thought, “Wow, this is somebody I haven’t seen in quite a while.”
For those of us who are old enough to have gone through the Kennedy campaign — you’re always waiting for that person who kind of stood above the crowd.
And I will tell you something else. Some of the key (Obama) players had a meeting with different state party chairs who were uncommitted. I was amazed, first of all, that they even had the meeting.
Secondly, I was amazed that they had all the data.
They could show us exactly where our state was — how many volunteers they had, how much money they had raised, what the head-to-head was between all the different candidates.
They showed Obama nine points ahead. This was way before the nomination.
So I always believed that he had the potential of carrying Colorado.
The other thing that was interesting is I can remember being with Joe Biden on the bus going from Pueblo to Colorado Springs. It was when that AP poll came out that was way different from all the other polling. (It showed McCain and Obama within a point of each other.)
I said, “I don’t believe it.”
So Joe calls in his pollster who traveled with him on the bus. And I’m sitting there listening to the pollster. (Former Gov. Roy) Romer was there and Ken Salazar was there.
And I said, “I don’t believe it, and here’s why. Did they poll young people with cell phones?”
“Well, no. They’re not part of the mix.”
“Did they poll newly registered voters?”
“No, they weren’t part of the mix.”
“Did they poll inactive Democrats who are coming in to vote again?”
“No, they didn’t do that.”
I said, “That poll’s wrong.”
I’m a psychologist by training. I’ve done a lot of focus-group work. And I’ve worked with polls. I can tell you — you can fool yourself with data, if you’re not careful. But there were these unknowns, these unknown dynamics that were going through this campaign.
I could have told you that the Clinton campaign — focusing on inside-the-Beltway components, on the same old campaigns
that we’ve always run — was on the wrong track.
By that point, I had already spent about three years as a state party chair, working with all the other state party chairs across the country. We knew what was going on in our states. We knew the movement that was happening.
We’d been working with Howard Dean on the 50-State Partnership Program.
But one of the tip-offs for me was in December of 2007.
Jim Crowe, of Level 3, had a fundraiser at his house for Obama. They had been asked to raise $20,000. I got invited first to the little rally downtown, and then I got invited out there.
They raised over half a million dollars. That was unheard of in Colorado up to that point.
I don’t think the Republicans ever matched that…
This is a guy who doesn’t even have the nomination yet. And this one little small group of people comes in, and he raises over a half million dollars.
I thought, “Hmm, there’s something here that’s really interesting. There’s something here.”
But I don’t take anything for granted. I worked on a lot of lost causes, and believed in my candidate with all my heart (laughs), so…
CS: What are your plans for your next term as state chair?
PW: Although I think we’re in a good place right now in this state, if we don’t work every single day as hard as we’ve been working
the last four years, we could easily, easily
lose a lot.
If you start taking anything for granted, you’re on your way down the wrong track as far as the potential for a loss. And so I don’t.
We’re rebuilding the party again. We’re going through reorganization.
We started a series of early morning breakfasts.
We had our first breakfast at my house for about five county people — not necessarily the chairs, but county people. We’re having the next one next week in Parker. We’ll have another one down south.
These are six or eight people, at most, talking about how we make this happen.
Then we’ll start a series of regional meetings where we’ll start retraining everyone all over the state. We usually do one big meeting (but) we’re going to now do them regionally because there are so many new people.
And then we’re going to start a series of regional forums and try to get some of the elected officials in.
So, to me, it’s not an off year. It’s another campaign year. We’ve got to lay the groundwork.
Next week, I’m going to Washington because I am one of the four chairs out of our association who is on the DNC Executive Committee. And we’re going to meet with the new executive director to talk about the changes that are going on at the DNC.
I also have lunch that day with a western representative, a political guy from the White House. I’ll also be meeting with the other agencies.
I’ve started moving into this other role of being one of the leaders among state chairs, because nobody stays for two years, much less going into six! (laughs).
The point is, there’s just lots of opportunities out there. And because of the work we’ve done up to this point, people are paying a lot of attention. It doesn’t mean they’re going to raise all my money for me. And they’re not going to do the organizational work. But they’re paying attention to us.