Guv’s race recap: A long, strange year may come down to Maes supporters

Colorado hasn’t really had a governor’s race this year. If we must use a sporting metaphor, it’s been more of a demolition derby.

It all began well over a year ago when the Republicans started maneuvering to avoid an ugly primary by uniting behind one candidate early.

Josh Penry, a state legislator and ex-aide to former Congressman Scott McInnis, agreed to stand down, as did former congressman Tom Tancredo. That left McInnis as the preemptive GOP candidate — which is just how the guys in the nice suits wanted it — or so they thought.

John Hickenlooper in Littleton a couple of months ago. Photo by Scot Kersgaard.

Two things got in the way. One was the Tea Party, which anointed outsider Evergreen businessman Dan Maes, who turned out to be a dogged and charming campaigner. Through hard work and luck, Maes worked himself into a position where when the second thing came along and McInnis was revealed as a plagiarist, Maes was able to work the grassroots for a narrow primary victory.

Meanwhile presumed Democratic candidate, incumbent Bill Ritter, announced in January that he would not seek a second term. It took a few days and a few off-the-record phone calls and meetings before Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper announced he would seek the nomination. No one challenged him on the Democratic side.

Maes thought he had won the Republican primary fair and square and for a while the Republican Party rallied in support of its nominee. Then, along came Tom Tancredo, who abandoned the Republican Party to run as the American Constitution Party candidate.

Tancredo politely — or not so politely — asked Maes to drop out. When Maes refused to take his primary victory and go home, things got ugly.

Turns out that for all of his divisiveness, Tancredo has name recognition and fund-raising ability to rival anyone’s. You could say his car was covered with sponsors’ decals, whereas Maes had none. In fact, many of Maes’s original sponsors saw a shinier car across the way and quickly jumped ship, leaving Maes clinging sadly to his gas money.

Questions about his resume also dogged Maes, going back to well before the whole question of whether he was an undercover sleuth or not.

So, who’s going to win this thing? Well, we know it won’t be Maes. And, even though Hickenlooper seems to be out in front, his nice-guy tactics make some wonder if he can actually win — he’s refusing even to run negative ads — and has not once called a press conference to say bad things about his opponent.

Polls run from Hickenlooper winning comfortably by 10-12 percent to Tancredo winning a squeaker. Most polls show Maes with 5-10 percent of the vote, and that is the wild card. Will people actually vote for Maes knowing he can’t win? If they change their minds at the last minute, will they pick the other conservative or are they so bitter at Tancredo for getting in the race and trashing Maes that they would vote for Hickenlooper? Who knows?

If we haven’t mentioned the issues yet, that is because there really haven’t been any. That’s not entirely true, or course. It’s just that they have been mostly pretty predictable.

Maes and Tancredo are for some of the tax-cutting amendments, while Hickenlooper opposes all three. Maes and Tancredo support the Personhood Amendment while Hickenlooper does not. Maes and Tancredo support trying to exempt the state from the federal health care plan, while Hickenlooper supports the plan. None of the three seem to have much of a plan for balancing the state’s budget — though Maes and Tancredo would cut, cut, cut, or so they say.

Both Maes and Tancredo blame Hickenlooper for driving jobs from the state even as Forbes for two years in a row has ranked Colorado the fourth best state for business in the country — and even as Hickenlooper is the only one of the three with a serious business background.

Maes and Tancredo (especially Tancredo, needless to say) would do everything they can to rid the state of illegal immigrants, whereas Hickenlooper favors a more nuanced approach.

If Hickenlooper can win without running a negative ad, a legend will be born. If Tancredo can knock him off his game, another kind of legend will be born. Stay tuned.

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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