Reports surfacing in the last hour suggest State Sen. Josh Penry is set to announce he will be ending his campaign to unseat Gov. Bill Ritter. Penry campaign spokesman Andrew Cole did not confirm reports.
Although Penry jumped into the campaign strongly this summer, winning “rising star” status from popular Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza, he has recently struggled.
Even though he posted large fundraising figures for the first quarter, for example, he was overtaken by primary rival former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis. Penry raised $400,000 and tweeted about it proudly only to be deflated when McInnis later announced he had pulled down $545,000, establishing himself as the clear frontrunner, enjoying the edge in experience, name recognition and cash.
Penry worked for McInnis as a Congressional staffer and never fully succeeded shaking the impression that McInnis had his number. McInnis fueled the impression by appearing unflappable in the face of Penry jabs. McInnis refused to debate Penry or even to appear in straw poll events with him.
Penry also seemed to be losing momentum on his message. Although he opened the campaign with a clear platform based on admitting to Republican fiscal failures, he soon seemed to be casting about, attacking Gov. Ritter with arguments designed for dramatic effect but increasingly untethered to facts. It was as though the budget crisis that is forcing Ritter every day to announce cost-slashing measures was undoing Penry’s planned program-cutting platform.
Penry’s complaints about Ritter’s prisoner-furlough program as carelessly reckless, for example, was the opposite of the reality. As the Colorado Independent reported, the program was meticulously thought out, a product of long planning based on research that showed incarceration and recidivism as a major financial drag on the state and that looked at which prisoners would be best to parole months early. In other words, it might have been exactly the kind of “hard choice” cost-cutting measure Penry described as essential to good government. His attacks seemed opportunistic and recalled the ugly national campaign that featured infamously furloughed Massachusetts prisoner Willie Horton in commercials run by George H. Bush in his campaign against Mass. Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988.
Penry’s recent attacks on the Governor’s Energy Office were similarly reaching. He called the office a “silo of patronage” and said it should be eliminated. But asked to say which patronage positions he was referring to, he came up with merely two names, and neither person owed their position to patronage. One of the employees, in fact, merely used workspace in the Energy Office and was not paid out of the Office budget. Indeed, the Office budget had been slashed to the bone by Ritter and is now running almost entirely on federal funds.
In addition, Penry seems to have made a poor decision in his selection of campaign manager Mike Britt. The choice seemed antithetical to his “new GOP politics” message. Britt cut his teeth working for Karl Rove, perhaps the most visible GOP strategist of the divisive cultural politics of the past decade. Britt was under investigation as a political staffer in George Bush’s White House and last week news surrounding Britt’s suspect tinkering with Republican National Committee email lists overshadowed Penry’s campaign.
Wins by moderate Republicans in two governor’s races last week may also be weighing on the decision for Penry to move aside for McInnis. Moderate Republicans Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell beat their Democratic rivals in New Jersey and Virginia. McInnis is perceived as more moderately conservative than is Penry.
Cillizza is now reporting that in fact last week’s governor’s races influenced the decision.
Sources close to Penry suggested that he was heavily influenced by the victories for Republicans in New Jersey and Virginia last week — wins due, at least in part, to the lack of competitive primaries on the Republican side.
Penry was worried that a bruising August primary would potentially compromise the eventual nominee’s chances of beating Ritter. Combine that with his youth (he is 33) and his role as state Senate Minority Leader and Penry decided that dropping out of the race was the best option for him and the party.
Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said the governor had no comment on the news of Penry’s decision, which he noted is yet to be confirmed.
In advance of the announcement, observers are speculating as to why Penry appears to be leaking the news in waves to Cillizza in Washington D.C. rather than to his home town paper, the Grand Junction Sentinel, or the Colorado paper of record, the Denver Post.
The Denver Post recently ran stories critical of Penry attacks on Ritter. Tim Hoover last month wrote a piece that scewered Penry‘s claims that Ritter had been expanding government. Lynn Bartels wrote the piece that punctured Penry’s “silo of patronage” claim regarding the Enery Office.
Michael Huttner, founder and head of liberal activist group ProgressNow, speculates in a press release that McInnis has had a hand in pushing Penry out through lobbyists in D.C., which he believes explains why the story is originating there.
“If this is true, it’s the old D.C. lobbyist guard stepping out of the shadows to clear the field for Scott ‘McLobbyist’ McInnis. McInnis’ ties to lobbyists, oil and gas interests, and corrupt cronies like Tom DeLay can’t help but make one wonder what’s really going on when his primary opponents start dropping out of the race.[…]
And it should come as no surprise that this story broke first in Washington D.C. instead of Colorado, since that’s where ‘McLobbyist’s’ best friends are. We call on McInnis to disclose which of his lobbyist friends helped push Penry out.”