Littwin: March Madness in the Centennial State

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] very bad thing happened to Scott Gessler at the big gubernatorial debate Sunday morning: No one laid a glove on him.

In fact, no one even took a real swing.

OK, there was that one question, deep into the 90-minute session, about why he skipped the first debate and whether he had said his rivals weren’t “legitimate,” but that was it. Otherwise, no one bothered. I know that sounds like it should be a good thing, but the problem for Gessler was that no one treated him like the co-front-runner he is assumed to be in the Republican race.

Not the moderators. Not his rivals. No one ganged up on him. He was just one of the guys.

And Gessler settled right into the role — as just another one of the four candidates who showed up when he should have been doing what the rest of us were doing Sunday morning: prepping for Oscar night.

[pullquote]You’d think Bob Beauprez would be an ideal candidate, if he hadn’t lost his last run for governor by 17 humiliating points. The fact that he’s still considered one of the front-runners says a lot about the front-runners.[/pullquote]

So, let’s say Gessler was there, but he didn’t quite show up. He seemed to avoid saying anything controversial. His only play was to take swings at John Hickenlooper, seeming to forget he has to win the nomination first. And that tells us a lot about where the governor’s race is as we head toward caucus night tonight.

What I mean is, no one has any idea.

Tom Tancredo didn’t show up for the debate, of course, because he’s Tancredo and he couldn’t be bothered.

Bob Beauprez — who’s now officially in the race — couldn’t be there, because he wasn’t yet officially in the race. He filed Monday. He’ll be at somebody’s neighborhood caucus on Tuesday. And despite his part in the Big Reveal — in which Cory Gardner unsettled the U.S. Senate race and Beauprez did little to change the governor’s race — no one even mentioned Beauprez at the debate.

Strange? Yeah, it was stranger still because Eli Stokols of Fox31 was moderator and it was Stokols who broke the Beauprez story. But Fox31 was only one of the sponsors. The Colorado Springs Gazette was another. And the Republican Party was a third. Do you think the Republicans didn’t want Beauprez mentioned? And what could that possibly mean?

Here’s where the race stands.

Greg Brophy has shown in the debates that he knows the issues as well as anyone. He’s shown that he’s the only candidate who drives a Prius and grows watermelons. He hasn’t shown he can raise any money. And he has backed off from talking about himself as the gun-toting, bike-riding, Prius-driving farmer, because you don’t get to be governor, even in recall land, by giving away — as Brophy is doing — a tricked-out Magpul-loaded gun.

Mike Kopp’s big moment was comparing John Hickenlooper to SpongeBobSquarePants. No, I have no idea what it means either. Kopp is supposedly, with Brophy, a second-tier candidate, but one who has been endorsed by Bill Armstrong and Hank Brown, which should mean he’s an establishment choice, but there is no real establishment choice, which is why the race is so confusing.

Tom Tancredo leads in the early polling and the early money, which is strange because he lost to John Hickenlooper by 15 points in 2010 and he’s the exact same Tancredo he was then. His decision not to debate is perfect Tancredo — a guy who plays by his own rules. His decision to invite Beauprez into the race — leading some, like Beauprez, to think he might be dropping out — is also perfect Tancredo. No one knows what he’ll do.

Beauprez desperately wanted to run for something. Before Gardner joined the Senate race, Beauprez said he was considering both races. Yes, Both Jobs Bob. He’s got name recognition. He can raise money. He can put together his organization quickly. You’d think he was an ideal candidate, if he hadn’t, well, lost his last run for governor by 17 humiliating points. The fact that Beauprez still must be considered one of the front-runners says a lot about the front-runners.

Which brings us back to Gessler, who was pushed/suckered into the debate Sunday. The Colorado Springs Gazette editorial board had ripped Gessler for skipping the first debate — he said he wouldn’t debate if Tancredo didn’t — and said the ethics charges against him could doom his campaign. It said his campaign was such that it could devolve into a Dan Maes situation, which is like saying that the Broncos season had devolved into a Super Bowl situation.

Or maybe it was this. Tancredo had apparently at one point semi-committed to the debate, meaning that Gessler suddenly had no reason not to agree to debate. But when Tancredo predictably backed out — because Tancredo is nothing if not unreliable — Gessler found himself in a bind. He could back out — and look rude. Or he could stay in — and look like a guy who was breaking a campaign promise.

That’s it, along with some other minor candidates, just because seven seems like a good number. Is there really a front-runner at this point? It’s our own version of political March Madness. I just don’t know who I’d take in the pool.