Wadhams clobbers challengers to win re-election as Colorado GOP chairman

 Tom Stone rolls up a flag in the hallway after losing a bid to unseat Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams March 21 in Castle Rock. (Photo/Ernest Luning)
Tom Stone rolls up a flag in the hallway after losing a bid to unseat Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams March 21 in Castle Rock. (Photo/Ernest Luning)

On the heels of thumping losses in last fall’s election, Colorado Republicans decided Saturday to stick with the one that brung ’em.

State GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams easily won re-election to a second two-year term with 85 percent of the vote at the party’s central committee meeting. Wadhams rebuffed challenges from former Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone and party activist Christine Tucker, who threw her support to Stone at the end of her nomination speech.

“In 2008, the Democrats picked one heck of a fight, and that’s a fight we’re going to finish in 2010,” Wadhams told a crowd of about 400 Republicans at Douglas County High School in Castle Rock. He vowed Republicans will win back majorities in the state Legislature and defeat Democrats Gov. Bill Ritter and Sen. Michael Bennet.

Going into the 2004 election, Republicans controlled both chambers of the Legislature and held both Senate seats, five of the state’s seven congressional seats, the governor’s office, and three of the remaining four statewide offices. In the three elections that followed, Democrats exactly reversed the Republicans’ advantage and threw in the state’s electoral votes for Barack Obama, only the second time a Democrat has won Colorado’s vote in four decades.

In the wake of 2008 defeats, a few potential challengers poked their heads up but quickly retreated amid complaints that Wadhams had left the state party to languish by taking the helm of Bob Schaffer’s losing Senate campaign. In the end, only two relative unknowns emerged to take on Wadhams, who has been a fixture in Colorado politics for decades.

Stone, who announced his bid just three weeks ago, called for a different approach in the face of mounting Republican losses. “Over the last two to three years,” he told the faithful, “someone has found a big eraser and erased the Republican Party in the state of Colorado.”

Saying Republicans needed to sharpen their message, Stone called for the party to take advantage of communication technology exploited by Democrats — a call echoed by Wadhams, whose executive director opened the session by urging Republicans to use Facebook and Twitter to organize and reach voters.

Before she surprised the crowd by dropping out and urging supporters to vote for Stone, Tucker berated GOP nabobs from the stage going so far as to call Wadhams a “liberal,” which drew chuckles from Republicans. “We don’t truly stand for anything conservative,” said Tucker, who supported Ron Paul in last year’s presidential primary season. She ticked off a list of ways she claimed the party had alienated young voters and called for a more inclusive tone from Republicans.

In an upset, party activist Leondray Gholston won the race for vice-chairman over former Arapahoe County GOP chief Nathan Chambers and Marti Whitmore, who lost the 2002 race for attorney general to Ken Salazar when her name was Marti Allbright. Gholston managed possible Senate candidate Ryan Frazier’s recent campaign for Aurora City Council.

Republicans met the day after a sold-out fundraiser Friday night where Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele told the party to stop complaining and embrace the conservative principles of hard work, self-reliance and limited government.