Heated GOP campaign rhetoric a risk in purple Colorado

The heated rhetoric and no-holds-barred campaign tactics on display in the Douglas County school board race may complicate what looks to be Republican party leader Dick Wadhams‘ plan to take back the state. The Douglas County GOP supported four “real Republicans” and targeted two “liberal Republicans” for defeat. The categories seemed to be based entirely around the fact that the teacher’s union endorsed the two “liberal Republicans.” That endorsement led to escalating allegations that the so-called union candidates were connected to ACORN and were working to further Pres. Obama’s alleged agenda to socialize health care and education.

In such an environment– one that includes the New York Congressional race where Colorado social conservative Marilyn Musgrave campaigned for a Conservative Party candidate over the local GOP candidate– Wadhams may find it difficult to maintain message. So far, GOP candidates for the top Colorado spots– Michael Bennet’s U.S. Senate seat and Bill Ritter’s seat in the Governor’s mansion– have been avoiding social issues and emphasizing fiscal conservativism. Can that strategy last?

Dick Wadhams
Dick Wadhams

Registered Republicans still outnumber Democrats in Colorado but in the last five years, Democrats have won both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats, three U.S. House seats, the governorship and majorities in both houses of the state Assembly. But Colorado is not suddenly Massachusetts.

As NPR reported Monday, the only way anyone wins in Colorado is by appealing to the nearly one-third of the voting population that remains unaffiliated, and this is no secret to Wadhams.

Wadhams senses opportunity. He’s already crafted a message focused on fiscal responsibility that is designed to appeal to unaffiliated voters.

“They seem to be very concerned about the massive spending proposals of the Obama administration,” says Wadhams. “They’re very concerned about the deficits.”

Yet Wadhams has reportedly thrown his weight behind the high-profile candidacies of Sen. Josh Penry and Jane Norton. Penry is running for governor and Norton for U.S. Senate. But the records of Penry and Norton both suggest they are more likely to advance a social-conservative agenda than their more moderate rivals Scott McInnis and Ken Buck.

In the present environment, where Penry’s state Senate colleagues are moved to draft a letter in support of “real Republican” Doug Hoffman, based in large part on Hoffman’s stance on social issues, it may not be long before Penry and Norton are forced out of the fiscal conservative closet where Wadhams has in effect been keeping them.

How long will grassroots Republicans and far-right activists like Marilyn Musgrave and Michelle Malkin allow Jane Norton to continue with the kind of vague pronouncements she made last night in Greeley:

Norton said if she’s nominated and elected to the Senate, she would work to bring back values of Republicans by bringing people back into action.

“We don’t need over-government, over-taxes, over-spending and over-regulations. We do not want government control of our health care,” she said.

Norton promised to restore values of the individual, the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of people.

“We will not compromise our values and principals,” she said.

More significantly, how long will the state’s key unaffiliated voters tolerate this kind of dog whistle evasion on matters that may deeply affect their personal lives– matters like contraception, abortion, marriage, sex ed curriculum and the viability of K-12 public education?

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