Colorado’s GOP leadership rallies around Maes, Wadhams – with a few exceptions

Whether Republicans like it or not, Dan Maes is their nominee for governor. Whether they like him or not, most GOP county chairs in Colorado say they support Maes.

Dan Maes
Mark McCarol, Conejos County chair summed up the comments of many of the 28 county GOP chairs surveyed by the Colorado Independent last week: “Mr. Maes won fair and square. [Colorado Republican Party Chairman] Dick [Wadhams] needs to curb the opposition to Maes. He should have backed Mr. Maes right away.”

The Colorado Independent called all 64 county GOP chairs, spoke with 28, and left messages for most of the rest (see part one of our two-part series). It’s interesting that while an overwhelming majority of chairs we talked to support Wadhams overall and think he has done a good job, most think he has done a poor job with the governor’s race.

“Dan has done the work. He’s done what he needed to do,” said John Ponikvar, of Moffat County.

“Dan Maes is who we support,” said Pueblo County chair David Dill. “I wish [American Constitution Party candidate Tom] Tancredo would just find something else to do. All he can do is act as a spoiler. I am not sure what is in it for him.”

“I support Dan Maes unequivocally,” said Otero County chair Judy Reyher.

While the chairs may be trying to circle the wagons, not all of Maes’ support runs very deep.

“I’m worried about the party. I support the idea of the Tea Party. I understand why Dan Maes has the support he has. I personally like Tom Tancredo. If something drastic doesn’t happen, we will end up with a Democrat [Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper] in the governor’s office,” worries Patricia Daugherty, Cheyenne County.

“If the Maes campaign completely falls apart, I would vote for Tancredo. If Maes can pull it together and begin to say substantive things on the issues that it sounds like he believes, and not just say what somebody tells him to say, then I will support him.

“We had a process we went through and Dan Maes came out the winner. I don’t know what people expected Dan Maes to do. It’s not his place to step aside,” she said.

“Our committee backed Maes but we just met and now the table has turned 100 percent,” said Ann Fattor or Gilpin County. “We don’t really have another candidate; we talked more about his character issues than we did about other candidates. A lot of us lean toward Tom though.”

Others, though, said Tancredo should get out of the race.

“Tom just needs to find another job,” said one chair who asked to remain anonymous.

“What this race does is prompt discussion of which is more important — party or person. If party is more important, you vote for Maes. If person is more important … well, Tancredo has the name recognition, the ability to raise money and to get out there quickly. He is a legitimate third-party candidate,” said Jeremy Weather, Yuma County.

Tom Tancredo
“I’m very disappointed in Tom Tancredo,” said Adams County chair Clark Bolser. “He is draining Republican voters away from Dan Maes and breaking up what was a strong coalition for Maes.

Bolser says he thinks Maes could win in a two-man race with Hickenlooper. “Mayor Hickenlooper is having problems getting above the low 40s in any poll I’ve seen. He’s very vulnerable. If we could unite behind Maes, I think he would be very strong.”

In part, Bolser blames the media. “I think the media, especially The Denver Post, has an agenda of getting Hickenlooper elected governor. I think both Maes and [former Republican Congressman and front-runner Scott] McInnis got a raw deal from the media digging into their careers in private business that really have nothing to do with their ability to lead the state.”

County chairs were even more passionate on the subject of Wadhams than they were on the governor’s race itself.

“Dick is a political superstar, nationally. Colorado is very fortunate to have him,” said Scott Starin, Boulder. “The situation with the governor’s race has obviously gotten out of hand. It has gotten ugly. Dick probably could have done more to stem it, but I don’t blame him at all.”

It’s interesting to note that someone’s willingness to be quoted for this story seemed to have little correlation to the person’s views.

“The situation with the governor’s race is out of his control. It’s just not his fault,” said one chair anonymously.

“It is absolutely a reflection of his leadership,” said another who didn’t want to be quoted.

Not surprisingly, though, the most vitriolic comments were offered under cover of anonymity. “Dick Wadhams is one of the worst people I have come across in politics and I’ve been involved a long time. I do think Dick should step down, but he’s not going to. He has brought the GOP to the realm where all we are is name-callers. We have not had any constructive communication from the GOP in years. The situation today is way out of whack and is tarnishing everyone in the party.”

“Dick should step down. Dick could have handled things a lot better than he has,” agreed Ponikvar, Moffat County party chair.

While most county chairs we talked to think Wadhams has had something to do with the mess that is the governor’s race, most also said he has done the best that could be expected and support him overall.

Ann Fattor, chair in Gilpin County, said, “Dick has been in a really tough spot. We might not have been in this mess if [state Senate Minority Leader and one-time governor’s candidate] Josh [Penry] had stayed in the race. Gilpin is a pretty independent-thinking place and we felt (U.S. Senate candidate) Jane Norton and Scott McInnis were both forced on us.”

David Abbot, of Grand County, did not mince words. “Dick has done as good as he could. It really is a fluke. Republicans in Colorado right now, we really have our dick in a wringer, especially in the governor’s race. There is really nothing that can be done at this point to cut our losses,” he said.

“From the very beginning Dick was very clear that there would be no insider dealing in determining who should run for what offices,” said Adams County’s Bolser. “He did what he said he would do. He kept his hands off and gave people the freedom to pick the most promising candidates.”

While some party leaders are angry with Wadhams, many of them are angrier with the candidates themselves.

“I really do think Dick has done a good job. He has let people decide who the nominee should be. He’s done nothing wrong. All the stuff that has happened has been because of the candidates themselves,” said Dan Suppes, Delta County chair, who said he favors Dan Maes today.

“Dick was just put in a really tough position. Things were really out of his control,” said Patrick Crowder, Rio Grande County.

Scott Wills, Elbert County, said, “Dick did not do a bad job in a tough situation. Hind site is always 20-20. I am disappointed in Tancredo for splitting the conservative vote.”

The party chair of an important populous county, who wished to remain anonymous, both praised and criticized Wadhams. “Dick has made missteps. I don’t care what he says behind closed doors, but when he talks publicly he needs to support our nominee. He can discuss his concerns with a candidate behind closed doors all he wants, but some of what he said was a little too public. Those were serious missteps.

“Dick has done a phenomenal job of maintaining the integrity of the assembly process. Our nominee was not his first choice, and it speaks to his integrity that the process worked.”

Wadhams’ public comments criticizing Maes came under heat from several quarters.

Dick Wadhams
“Dick has done a very good job. A lot of people don’t understand what Dick can or can’t do. A lot of people are hammering on him for things that he really can’t do anything about. Things just got thrown in his lap. I did think, though, that his words toward Dan Maes were a little harsh, but he calls them like he sees them,” said Reyher.

Douglas County chair Don Baisley said the governor’s race has demonstrated that the party needs to do a better job of recruiting candidates and then of vetting them before it is too late.

The chairs of Arapahoe and Broomfield counties both praised Wadhams for operating fairly and openly.

“Dick has a very very difficult job. I’m a little more involved than some people and I’ve seen how he has strived to be neutral and fair. First people said he was for Penry, then they said he forced Penry out. Dick has been open to meet with anyone who wanted to run for office and to offer his insights and advice without casting judgment as to whether the person should run or not. He has taken a lot of undeserved heat,” said David Kerber, Arapahoe County chair and a member of the executive committee.

“I am 100 percent behind Dick. He has done nothing behind people’s backs. He has met openly with everyone who has wanted to meet with him,” said Erich Feigel, Broomfield County.

Jack Taylor, of Routt County, said he absolutely supports Wadhams. He said Tancredo should get out of the race, but that he thinks Maes might be able to win a three-way race. “Hickenlooper is not quite as popular as people think and I see Tancredo losing ground as people realize what he is doing.”

Taylor said he phoned Wadhams a while back and asked him “who these powers that be are that I keep reading about,” meeting in secret and making party decisions. “He said, ‘when you find out, let me know because I have no idea.’”

Like Bolser, Taylor said he blamed the media in large part for the problems experienced by McInnis. “There were two sides to the plagiarism story; I guarantee you that,” he said.

Randy Freed, Bent County chair, came down solidly for Wadhams and blamed the current mess on Tancredo.

“I really trust Dick with his judgment. When he called for both Maes and Tancredo to withdraw, I thought that would be a fine solution. Dick always seems to speak my mind for me,” Freed said.

He said he thought Tancredo was really hurting the party and the conservative cause right now. “I can only suppose that any votes he gets otherwise would have gone to Mr. Maes,” he said.

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Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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