Can Senator Schultheis be Musgraved?

Not likely. But Republican Senate Candidate Tom McDowell is determined to try. He wants to move the dial in Colorado Springs away from a social politics that puts abortion, gay rights and illegal immigration front and center and toward a fiscal politics that prioritizes economic policy and job creation. In other words, pro-choice McDowell wants to unseat the man who asserted on the floor of the Colorado Senate that providing tax money to test for HIV in pregnant moms would be taking away the god-directed “negative consequences” of sexual promiscuity.

Sixty-two-year-old McDowell told the Colorado Springs Gazette that the emphasis on social issues is driving people away from the party– at least enough of them that the GOP is effectively relinquishing any chance to regain the majority. The GOP, he said, is “choosing to lose.”

McDowell compared local Republicans to the Colorado Rockies, whose attendance figures jumped this summer when the team started winning. “Politics works the same way,” he said. “If you choose to lose, you can’t get political contributions, you can’t get people to work for you.”

You also can’t control the political agenda, he noted.

It’s an argument that goes to the heart of a debate simmering in local, state and national Republican circles since the GOP wipeout in November 2008: Does the party need to reach out to moderates and liberals to succeed? Does success require a “big tent” where anti-abortion and pro-choice Republicans are equally welcome?
Schultheis has never made a secret of his preference for ideological purity over let’s-make-a-deal politics.

“He wants to abandon the principles of the Republican Party in order to win elections,” he said of McDowell. “I don’t agree with it.”

In fact, Schultheis said that the party has already become too liberal. “It’s gone too far the other way.” It’s all the opposite of what McDowell is saying, said Schultheis. It’s the softening of the GOP ideological edge that is costing elections.

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams seems to believe this is a non-issue and downplayed it to the Gazette.

“The issues that unite us as Republicans are fiscal and economic,” he said, “and I think you’re going to see those issues playing out in the 2010 elections.” He said the Schultheis-McDowell fight was “the rare exception.”

That’s probably not true at all. Republican Kit Roupé is battling Mark Barker to face incumbent Democrat Dennis Apuan for Colorado Springs House District 17. The main issue dividing the two Republicans is abortion. In the 4th Congressional District last election, moderate Democrat Betsy Markey unseated major social conservative and anti-abortion crusader Marilyn Musgrave in a campaign that mostly fell along these lines.

But McDowell likely lives in the wrong district to sell this version of Republicanism.

“A pro-choice Republican is never going to win in northern Colorado Springs,” said Daniel Cole, a local conservative activist and a regular contributor to The Gazette’s editorial page.

“There might be some parts of the country where Republican voters don’t like social conservatism,” Cole continued. “All I know is that the voters certainly do like social conservatism in Senate District 9.”

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