Wadhams speaks: ‘Our fundamental principles are pretty darn solid’

State GOP chairman Dick Wadhams sits down and opens up on a wide range of political topics in an illuminating interview with Colorado Statesman editor Jody Hope Strogoff and reporter Jason Kosena, who was The Colorado Independent’s chief political reporter through the 2008 election.

Unlike his ubiquitous — sometimes vulgar — sound bites issued during the heat of the campaign, Wadhams sounds positively relaxed and introspective as he discusses the future of the Republican Party in Colorado, prospects for retaking the legislature and statewide seats, and even whether Marilyn Musgrave should have called to concede to Betsy Markey after losing her 4th District seat in Congress (short answer: yes).

There are plenty of highlights in the lengthy Q&A, which took place last Tuesday while Tom Daschle’s nomination as Health and Human Services secretary hung in the balance, but it’s worth reading the whole thing for an unusually broad portrait of Wadhams — once dubbed Rove 2.0 for his aggressive campaign tactics — and his insights into Colorado politics. Wadhams is so far unopposed in his plans to run for re-election as chairman of the state Republican Party in March.

On Republican use of technology to compete in elections:

[Dick Wadhams]: We were so far ahead of the Democrats in 2000, 2004. And now they have blown by us, largely because of Barack Obama, not because of the Democratic Party. One of the things that came out that I didn’t realize at the time — [former RNC chairman] Mike Duncan gave a very vigorous defense of the RNC’s technological capacity and the fact that the McCain campaign chose not to take advantage of it. Now, that’s all history now, and there’s no use rehashing it. But I do think that we were further along than what it seemed, and Mike made a very compelling case that the McCain campaign just didn’t use it

On the Republican Party’s direction:

[Colorado Statesman]: What about the philosophy of the party?

DW: Right after the election, when all these really smart people were telling reporters that, “We have to examine the soul of our party,” and all this stuff, I was thinking, “Oh my God, cut the dramatics, man.” The fact is that I think our fundamental principles are pretty darn solid: limited government, holding taxes and regulations down, strong national defense, strong national security. I mean, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with our principles. And, in fact, I think that’s one of the reasons we got in trouble, because we passed all of those appropriations bills, larded with earmarks, and Bush didn’t veto one of them. And so, I have said in many speeches over the past two years that we deserved to lose Congress. The Democrats didn’t deserve to win it, but we sure deserved to lose it.

On the state party’s prospects:

[DW:] I think the biggest secret about the Republican Party right now — or not secret, but the biggest hope for the future — is that group of legislators. I mean, I look at Josh Penry, Cory Gardner and Mike Copp and Amy Stephens, Ellen Roberts … And I shouldn’t even be naming names, because we’re just everywhere. And Scott Tipton just got elected. We’ve got some great young leadership in the state Legislature, and, when I look at that crop I see governors, senators and congressmen.

On potential challengers to Michael Bennet, the Democrat appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter to the U.S. Senate:

DW: Well, I think right now you’ve got Ryan Frazier, who I’m a big fan of; Mark Hillman, who, even though he’s been a statewide elected official and he was in the Legislature, I still think is a face of the future. I do not think Mark is part of the past, because he’s very young. The guy went into the Senate when he was ridiculously young, and he’s still young- looking. And he is — what, is he, 41? And I think Mark is still one of the best speakers we have. He’s one of the most articulate, smartest guys we have. I hope Mark is looking at it. He and his wife just had a baby, so that’s kind of factoring in with this stuff. But I hope Mark Hillman’s looking at it.

Dan Caplis. I’m a big fan of him, as well, I think Dan is looking at it. I don’t know what Josh Penry’s going to do, but I just think he is really an outstanding senator and leader. I don’t know if he’ll run for governor or not, but I sure think he would be a great candidate.

On the possibility Bennet might face a primary:

[DW:] … I don’t take for granted that Senator Bennet will be unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

CS: Do you think there could be a primary?

DW: I do. Dan Haley (of the Denver Post) wrote it best in a column he wrote a week ago Sunday about the Card Check Bill, eliminating the (union) secret ballot. That vote will define Senator Bennet more than any other vote he’s going to take. He’s already defining himself. Everything the leadership tells him to vote for, he is. But if he votes to eliminate the secret ballot, he is not a moderate, pro-business Democrat. He’s just another union guy kowtowing … If he votes against it, I still think there is lingering resentment and frustration over that appointment. And I think that could propel a (Andrew) Romanoff or a (Joan) Fitz-Gerald into a primary against him, backed by labor. They are never going to have a better chance to get that Card Check legislation. So to me, it’s a win-win. If he votes for it, well, we know he’s just another “whatever the unions tell me to do, I do it, and I want to eliminate secret ballots.” If he votes against it, he’s inviting a primary.

On how Bennet got into the Senate:

CS: Why do you think Ritter made that appointment?

DW: I think he didn’t appoint (Denver Mayor John) Hickenlooper because I think that he genuinely didn’t want to be overshadowed by Hickenlooper.

CS: You really think that was the reason?

DW: I do. What I think this revealed is the real rift between Hickenlooper and Ritter, and I think Ritter’s intimidated by Hickenlooper. And for good reason — Hickenlooper’s much better than he is (laughs). He just is.

And finally, Wadhams’ thoughts on Musgrave and how things wound up in the 4th:

CS: Were you disappointed in the way Marilyn Musgrave ended her campaign?

DW: I wish she would have called Congresswoman Markey. Yeah, I think she should have.

CS: Have you talked to her since?

DW: I haven’t talked to Marilyn. I’m a big fan of Marilyn Musgrave. I regret how she became so characterized as an evil, nasty person. She is one of the nicest, most respectable … I think she’s just a good person, and I regret that she allowed to get herself defined as the one-issue candidate. I mean, it’s too bad.

It’s history now, but I wish she hadn’t done that. I wish she had called Markey up.

Again, that’s just a taste. Wadhams weighs in on everyone from Andrew Romanoff to Scott McInnis, and on topics from redistricting to the value of primaries. And keep an eye out for next week’s Colorado Statesman, which will feature an interview with former congressman and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez.

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Ernest Luning

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