[dropcap]B[/dropcap]OB Beauprez seems to be enjoying his latest and likely last turn on the Colorado election-politics stage. He has a month to try and extend his time there by winning a primary race many observers think he will struggle to win only to advance to a general election he is almost sure to lose.
A former Congressman and successful banker-rancher-real estate developer, Beauprez last ran for office in 2006. By almost all accounts it was a disaster. He lost by a whopping 17 points to Democrat Bill Ritter, a sort of anti-politician who stepped down after a single term and who is described as folksy or deadpan or, less kindly, as uncharismatic. But Beauprez seems more relaxed this time around. He is a lithe 65-year-old with distinguished features and gray hair swept back from a tanned forehead. Of the three candidates who attended a debate Tuesday evening at Colorado Christian University, Beauprez was most at ease. He bantered and laughed readily, his white teeth on several occasions shining out of a face red with mirth.
He was bold and upbeat in his answers.
“Look, I’ve lived a dream. I sold my family farm in Lafayette and now 1,300 families live there. I revived a struggling bank… I served in Congress for four years and now I raise buffalo on a ranch with my son near the Wyoming border,” he said. “This state has always been big enough to accommodate its people and their dreams.”
Beauprez appears beaming in a recent Denver Post piece by reporter Lynn Bartels, who celebrated him as “a good sport.”
His supporters tout him as the kind of establishment figure that can break the two-term Democratic hold on the governor’s office.
His critics see him as another fatally flawed Colorado GOP candidate, one who bungled an earlier run at the office and one whose credentials as a senior statesman have been compromised by participation in the ideological and rhetorical excesses of the Tea Party era.
Beauprez jumped into the race at the beginning of March after announcing he was considering running to unseat incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall. Critics mocked him as an opportunist transparently more interested in the spotlight than the office. But Republican voters welcomed him into the race. Just a day later, they voted him into second place in the state’s local party caucus straw polls. In swing-county Broomfield even the few voters under 40 who turned out knew his name. They told the Colorado Independent that Beauprez had added “great energy” to the race, that his entrance generated the kind of “positive chatter” they thought the party had been lacking in recent years.
In addition to serving in Congress, Beauprez was also Colorado Republican Party chairman, and this year, he has pulled down key endorsements from state political figures like former House Majority Leader Amy Stephens and state Senator Greg Brophy, whose gubernatorial candidacy this year stopped short when he failed to gain enough delegates at the state assembly earlier this month. But more than that, of the men left running, Beauprez is the kind of patrician figure silk-tie members of the official and unofficial party establishment accept as one of their own. The list of national figures who have endorsed him reinforces the image, men like Mitt Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Indeed, it helps in an eventual face off against Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, who is wealthy and who is a prodigious fundraiser, that Beauprez has a personal fortune. Right out of the gate, he loaned his campaign $220,000, which is something none of the other three candidates — former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former Congressman Tom Tancredo — can do. He still has $64,000 cash on hand and can infuse the campaign with cash at will and call in chits from the many political figures he has donated to generously in the past.
“He’s the establishment guy,” said Tancredo in a March interview on Denver’s Velocity Radio. Tancredo didn’t mean it as a compliment. He was just stating a fact and describing the lay of the land in the primary.
Brophy spoke for many Republicans when he announced his endorsement.
“I want Republicans to win this November and Bob is the best prepared to win.”
A whiff of the ineffectual
Tancredo at this point in the race is the nominal frontrunner. His campaign has more money for now in the bank than do the other three and polls suggest he is solidly out front. But no one expected the fiery controversial figure to stay in the race. In fact Tancredo suggested from the beginning that he would step aside if anyone better came along. Beauprez came along and Tancredo is still in the race, and leading. Beauprez didn’t clear out Tancredo or anyone else.
The response to the Beauprez candidacy in the governor’s race contrasts with the entrance of Congressman Cory Gardner in the U.S. Senate race. Gardner made phone calls and waved his fundraising prowess under noses and he succeeded at making deals. He cleared a crowded field, eventually moving out three high-profile state politicians. In the governor’s race, Brophy, Gessler and Kopp never even flinched. Only the assembly knocked off Brophy and Gessler has now attacked Beauprez in the conservative Colorado Springs Gazette as a loser, the kind of easy choice who fails to inspire voters and falls short, election after election, to no effect, except to reinforce the pattern.
That’s really what Tancredo was saying when he called Beauprez “the establishment guy.” The description came in a March interview on Denver’s Velocity Radio. In the mouth of non-establishment figure Tancredo and in the context of the Colorado governor’s office, held by Democrats the last eight years, it meant “loser.”
Indeed, Beauprez’s steep loss in the 2006 governor’s race haunts the party. It seemed to set the party on a dismal course. Hickenlooper crushed Tancredo and Republican candidate Dan Maes in Republican-wave year 2010 and is running well ahead of the crowded Republican pack this year. In that context, Beauprez’s winning endorsements from high-profile campaign losers like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry arguably may prove more liability than benefit.
Years in the wilderness
“Electability” in Colorado statewide general elections means the ability to win over the state’s one-third less-partisan unaffiliated voter bloc and the women’s voting bloc that has been voting Democratic in increasing numbers with each election. But this is not an era of mainstream Rockefeller Republicans. In Colorado as elsewhere, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Beauprez looks and sounds like an old-school Republican but his views are extreme, articulated at length during his “time in the wilderness,” as lefty blog ColoradoPols has put it.
Over the last half-decade out of office, Beauprez joined the country’s growing ranks of conservative politics pundits and traveled down the path that features climate change denial, fear of a Muslim takeover, Obama’s alleged missing birth certificate and the coming civil war the president is alleged to be fomenting on the real America.
He described climate change as “at best a grossly overhyped issue and at worst a complete hoax foisted on most of the world.” He said Islamist sharia law was “creeping in… It’s creeping in not only in Colorado, but all across America,” he said. He earlier wrote a 1500-word article on how Islamists had infiltrated the White House.
Those kinds of views have already started to color his candidacy — and not just the ideas about climate and sharia conspiracies. Beauprez’s views on policy, on the priorities for a Beauprez administration, often sound like the kind of formulations that crowd the talk-radio dial.
“All across Colorado, everyone I talk to tells me, just get the government boot off my neck,” he said at the CCU debate. It was clearly an animating idea for Beauprez. He shook with passion when he said it.
“On Day One of a Beauprez administration, all these regulations and taxes… We’re going to go through every one of them and get rid of those that aren’t about supporting individual success,” he said. It was a campaign promise but it didn’t sound like one a governor with a Democratic legislature could actually effect.
The Beauprez stump presence is a strange mix.
He made a mark at the CCU debate connecting with the audience as warm blooded and emotionally invested in his closing remarks. He spoke about his father, who in the last days of his life was unable to speak but conscious and alert. The story contained the kind of unpolished poignant details that made it seem unpracticed and genuine.
“He worked the land his whole life,” he said. “He reached up from the hospital bed and put his large hand to my forehead. It was a way of passing on the baton. My dad left his part of the world a much better place than he found it.
“And here,” he said, holding up a small photograph, “I have a photo right here of my granddaughter to remind me of my mission. People say our best years in this country are behind us. I don’t believe that. I believe we have to hand it down better than we got it to our children and our grandchildren.” Lefty blog ColoradoPols called it “an excellent closing statement — the most heartfelt and honest we’ve seen him.”
But he also got the biggest applause of the night on a question about the fate of convicted killer Nathan Dunlap, whose death sentence was indefinitely delayed by Hickenlooper last May. Kopp said that the families of the victims were denied justice. Gessler said he felt it was important to trust the justice and jury system. Beauprez went for the jugular.
He said simply that he “would execute Nathan Dunlap.” It was the red meat statement of the night and the crowd reacted with the enthusiasm the answer was intended to generate. The words were delivered stridently, in a way meant to demonstrate no concession to the reality that the death penalty has always been controversial and has become increasingly so as the race bias of sentencing has become clear, as DNA evidence now exonerates many death row inmates and as uncooperative pharmaceutical companies and botched executions underline the fact that any kind of murder is murder.
You can run either as the establishment’s electable candidate or as the plain-speaking red-meat dishing conservative. But you can’t run as both.
All of which plays into analysis offered by Bob Loevy, professor emeritus of political science at Colorado College. He suggested that the Beauprez candidacy, at least on a level that guarantees it won’t succeed, is an unserious candidacy.
“This is why just weeks before he announced, he wasn’t sure whether he would run to be a senator or a governor,” Loevy said. “Have you read the book The Last Hurrah?” he asked.
The Last Hurrah is a novel by Edwin O’Connor published in 1956 whose protagonist is a 72-year-old mayor and former governor now running for reelection. It’s a “Mad Men” story of the post-war transitional era most challenging to the men used to running things. In the end, a handsome young election opponent and the advent of television dooms white-haired “Governor” to defeat.
“They made a movie of the book starring Spencer Tracy,” said Loevy. “One thing attracting [Beauprez to run] might be, well, it looks like 2014 could be a big Republican year. There comes a time in life, where maybe you just want to run one more race, you want to hear the applause one more time.”