Larimer County Republican insiders nibbled away at conventional wisdom regarding Colorado Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry’s prospects in the coming gubernatorial primary.
Former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis triumphed over as-yet unofficial candidate Penry at Friday night’s Larimer shrimp boil and straw poll event. The victory was clearly based on name recognition alone. Many in the crowd of roughly 300 told the Colorado Independent they had never heard of Penry, who once worked for McInnis in his Capitol Hill office and is seen as the former congressman’s main rival for the nomination.
Penry did not attend the the local party’s shrimp boil fund-raiser.
State Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Republican from Berthoud, made a short speech in Penry’s place and did him no real service. Near the end of his remarks, he declared that the Grand Junction Republican was an “inspirational leader” in the Senate this year, Penry’s first as minority leader.
“Josh sends a message tonight,” said Lundberg. “He says: ‘Stay the course.'”
The line, borrowed from former President George W. Bush, struck an odd note for a crowd being otherwise stoked to make up the political territory dramatically lost in the last few cycles — and the message visibly failed to inspire.
“Josh thanks you all …” Lundberg finished not long after to a smattering of applause.
Penry’s lack of resonance with the largely conservative county party members — who took their cues for many years from former Fourth district U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave — signals an interesting shift in the Larimer County right-leaning electorate and its continued status as state political bellwether far from the influences of Metro Denver.
McInnis, who represented the sprawling Third District from 1993 to 2005, is more ideologically in line with the area’s socially conservative voters. Penry’s politics, however, recall the brawling right-wing style of Musgrave and Fort Collins favorite son, former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer.
Although the primary is still 14 months away, the shrimp-boil attendees repeatedly underlined their belief that the exurban northern Front Range is a must-win for Republicans. And they weren’t just posing in order to draw little-known candidates like Penry north.
The Colorado Republican Party announced Saturday that it will hold its 2010 state convention at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.