Dick Wadhams and the politics of mouthwash

Two things jump to mind when thinking about the outcome of the Colorado vote:

1. Rep. Doug Lamborn — two years ago a freshman trying to find the Capitol bathroom — is now the dean of Colorado’s Republican delegation in Washington.

2. Dick Wadhams’ threat to shove a bunch of 30-second ads up Democrat Mark Udall’s ass over a missed vote might just have marked the Macaca moment of his failed effort to get his old pal Bob Schaffer elected to the United States Senate. Such trashy talk underscores what went so utterly wrong for Republicans in Colorado on Tuesday.

When the other party is promising all things are possible, that there is hope in a dreadful economy, and there is hope for millions of Americans without decent health care and hope for a solution to the quagmire in Iraq, Wadhams was issuing crude threats.

Specifically, Wadhams’ quote in early August, reported by Rocky Mountain News reporter Lynn Bartels, came after Udall missed a vote in Washington over whether to recess Congress before energy-related legislation had been passed. “[We’re] going to shove a bunch of 30-second ads up his ass on this issue over the course of the campaign,” Wadhams practically crowed.

His candidate, Schaffer, didn’t help himself much during the campaign, including shrilly attacking Udall on national television, and later petulantly complained about not being able to bring notes to a 30-minute live TV debate.

In a pre-debate exchange that was being live-streamed, including by the Colorado Independent, Schaffer argued that he wanted to have his notes, despite a prior no-notes or -props agreement.

“You know, this is a campaign for the United States Senate, it’s not a talent contest,” Schaffer argued.

Udall coolly settled the spat — his own defining moment of the campaign. “This is a test of your wits; it’s a test of what you have in your head,” he said. “If Bob needs to have a few notes with him, fine. But I’m here with an empty pad and let’s go. Let’s debate.”

In June 2007, Wadhams promised a great comeback for the Republicans in 2008. During a speech to the Montana GOP, Wadhams predicted, “We will win here in Montana, we will win in Colorado with the only Senate seat in the nation and we will win the presidency of the United States with a principled campaign.”

Wadhams had returned to Colorado after running former Virginia Sen. George Allen’s disastrous effort for reelection two years ago. He returned to run the state GOP and quickly signed on to a dual role to run his old pal Schaffer’s campaign.

Then, despite his promise of “principle,” he went back to his old crude rules -– including efforts to marginalize reporters, only talking to news outlets he deemed “legitimate” (specifically The Rocky Mountain News and a few others). He weirdly tried to shapeshift Schaffer, an uber-conservative, school voucher-obsessed oil and gas executive, into a cosmic alternative-energy butterfly.

In his dual role as GOP chairman, Wadhams instructed other Republican candidates to play by his rules — to their detriment.

On Tuesday night President-elect Barack Obama obliterated Wadhams’ trash talk with eloquence and a promise to be president to all — including Wadhams. It’s a tall order. But the results of the elections are a clear signal that Wadhams’ tactics no longer work, not even in his home state of Colorado — and not even for the man formerly known as Karl Rove 2.0.

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Cara Degette

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