State party showdown: Rush Limbaugh-wannabe vs Rove 2.0

While we’re introducing much of the state to little-known Colorado Republican Party chair candidate Tom Stone it makes sense to revisit our 2007 coverage of Dick Wadhams when he sought to ascend the GOP throne.

Now that Stone has been dubbed “Eagle County’s Rush Limbaugh” by a member of his own party, we’ll see how he matches up to Wadhams, the über-operative not-so-affectionately called “Karl Rove 2.0.”

Beating the Media Into Submission, Wadhams Style

While the local media trumpets the return of native son Dick Wadhams to Colorado politics, a review of his brutal slash-and-burn tactics against political journalists may have the state press corps clutching their fire-retardant underwear.

Eminently quotable, the Republican operative dubbed “Rove 2.0”, may give good copy for news stories but Wadhams has racked up a nasty reputation for impugning the ethics of reporters who fall out of favor for simply doing their jobs-reporting the foibles of his frequently dull-witted candidates packaged as common guys.

Wadhams was hired by the South Dakota politician to manage his 2004 campaign against then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Early in the election cycle, Wadhams hired political operatives to act as independent bloggers-two of whom earned a combined $35,000 for their services without publicly disclosing their ties to the campaign. In blogger parlance, Daschle v Thune, South Dakota Politics and others were “astroturfing”, or creating a fake grassroots movement, for Wadham’s candidate.

Their task: to relentlessly attack the state’s largest newspaper, the Argus Leader, and question the integrity of its chief political reporter David Kranz, state editor Patrick Lalley, and executive editor Randell Beck. The bloggers were to engage in a psy-ops mind game to force the trio to overcompensate for the fake criticisms of editorial bias thus publishing more harsh coverage of Daschle.

A story published in the Septmber 2006 issue of Washington Monthly profiles Wadhams’ strategy for winning over the media:

That Wadhams would think to co-opt a pair of bloggers is testament to his understanding of the news business, a savvy that sets him apart from nearly all his peers. Wadhams spends half his time flooding the zone with slash-and-burn press releases–dozens a week–and most of the rest chatting up reporters eager to discuss politics, not policy. The press releases create a sense of urgency, and, through sheer volume, manufacture the feeling of a rapidly developing story. The phone calls–at the height of campaign season, local journalists describe getting up to half a dozen a day–both flatter and intimidate. (The mercurial Wadhams can shift from amiable to antagonistic in an instant.)

Fortunately, one long-respected member of the Denver media caught on to Wadhams’ antics:

During one particularly nasty race, Rocky Mountain News columnist Mike Littwin decided he’d had enough. “This is politics by invective–loser, fraud, dirty,” he sputtered. “I asked [Dick] Wadhams where was the line you didn’t cross. He said it was up to the voters to determine.” In other words, democracy means never having to say you’re sorry.

Can you spot the origin of the 2008 election season catchphrase “Boulder Liberal?” It’s right out of Wadhams’ dog-eared playbook.