Colorado GOP regrouping after election defeats |

Colorado GOP regrouping after election defeats

Michael Riley and Karen E. Crummy
The Denver Post
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Colorado Republicans, sifting through the ashes of three disastrous election cycles, are in the middle of a vigorous debate over how to win again in a state where their future looks bleak.

That struggle is likely to play out over the next few months, key players say, starting with a fight over the party’s leadership.

Insiders say big defeats Tuesday at the presiden­tial, Senate and House levels could play out two ways: an invigorating period of rebuilding and new ideas or a divisive fight over the party’s direction that could debilitate it for years.

Either would be fueled by a sense that, despite an unfavorable national headwind, the 2008 election in Colorado was nonetheless badly mishandled and that the party over the past four years has squan­dered significant advantages in voter registrations, outmaneuvered by Democrats at nearly every turn. “Our county parties are no stronger, our voter reg­istration numbers have decreased. We had our most anemic performance in absentee and early voting vis- a-vis the Democrats that we’ve had in 10 years,” said one party strategist, who asked not to be named in order to speak more freely about the state GOP’s problems.

“From just a pure party organizational standpoint, we failed. That’s what’s giving people pause to say, ‘Are we headed in the right direction for 2010?'” the strategist said.

Several influential Republicans, who asked not to be named, singled out state party chairman Dick Wadhams for criticism after he devoted much of his time to the U.S. Senate race rather than state legisla­tive or other down-ticket contests.

Wadhams pointed out that he had hired an exec­utive director to work on other races, but his response to the criticism makes clear the depth of the divisions the party is now trying to fix.

“The people who are criticizing me don’t even have the guts to speak publicly. They are cowards,” Wadhams said. “I didn’t see them step up and take on a $ 580,000 debt, recruit legislative candidates and attend 200 events throughout the state recon­necting with activists and county commissioners.”

Who will be at party helm?

Wadhams said he is “strongly considering” stay­ing on as state chairman. But a battle over informal leadership of the party and its direction is already unfolding, with two key figures emerging early, both with sights on the gubernatorial race two years from now.

Former Western Slope Congressman Scott McIn­nis fired the first broadside a week before the elec­tion, publicly arguing that the party needed to mod­erate its image and field centrist candidates who could win over the state’s independent voters.

Along with his former chief of staff, Mike Hess, McInnis has been working for months to form a behind- the- scenes coalition that could reshape the party and its image.

Rep. Tom Tancredo of Littleton, who is leaving Congress, is launching his own bid to fill the party’s leadership vacuum.

Among his efforts, Tancredo is pushing hard to modernize the party’s political tactics, including developing a Republican version of progressive attack groups like Progress Now Action that have dogged GOP candidates up and down the state.

“The results of this last election make me want to be involved in any way I can help,” Tancredo said last week, adding that ” yes, that includes running for governor.”

The stakes in the next gubernatorial and legisla­tive elections are big: 2010 marks the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional and state legislative dis­tricts. The presiding party has heavy influence in redistricting, which allows that party in power to solidify or expand its control.

Considerable resources from both national Republican and Democratic organizations are expected to saturate Colorado in two years to defend Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and boost a GOP chal­lenger.

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