Penry on heading Norton campaign: ‘They’ll totally underestimate me’

Colorado Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry has limited experience running political campaigns, which he says is a strong qualification for his new position as manager for Jane Norton’s U.S. Senate campaign.

“No I’ve never run a campaign before,” he told the Colorado Independent. “So they should totally underestimate me.” It was typical Penry: Wry, confident and ready for a fight.

The surprise announcement that the Minority Leader would now be turning to campaign strategy and messaging baffled political watchers but Penry said he decided to join Norton’s campaign because he thinks she’s the best shot Republicans have to win Michael Bennet’s seat. He also said he’s been friends with Norton for years.

“Jane is clearly are strongest candidate. She is a conservative. She is articulate. She would be the first female U.S. Senator in the history of the state of Colorado, and she has been a friend of mine for a long time.”

Norton made the choice to bring Penry on partially as a result of the gains Norton primary opponent Ken Buck’s campaign has made in the last month, according to Penry. He told the Denver weekly Westword that he made the decision to join the campaign over a few meetings and a handshake. He said the bruised campaign knew it was time to attack and that Penry was the man for the job.

“I think [Norton] knew her campaign needed to get stronger to win a tough primary. Ken has had a great couple of weeks… She knows she’s going to have to start fighting back when they spend a million dollars or so of third-party money from Washington to attack her. She knows she has to start fighting back, and I am pretty good at that, so she enlisted me to the cause.”

Last week at a tax day Tea Party rally in Denver, Buck said he would beat Jane Norton in the primary. He said she had already shown serious electoral weakness, given the incredible head start she got from big money donors and the national party. She lost the straw poll caucus voting in March and decided to avoid a showdown at the GOP convention next month.

“She hasn’t won the caucus. She jumped the [state GOP] assembly because she can’t win that. She won’t win the primary. And I will win the general election,” he said.

Penry is taking over the position formerly held by Norm Cummings, who will stay on as consultant. The arrangement suggests Penry, a popular grassroots conservative figure in the state, will be less a day-to-day manager or strategist and more a high-profile spokesperson for the campaign, pulling in press and drawing supporters.

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