Colorado Republicans focus on economy
November 14, 2009
DENVER – Colorado Republicans seem to be putting family values in the political back seat as they try to win races next year on a simple agenda of small government and fiscal conservatism.
In the state’s crowded Republican primaries to challenge Democratic incumbents for governor and U.S. senator, the candidates aren’t making tried-and-true social appeals on topics such as abortion. Instead, Republicans are stumping on promises to rein in spending and turn back Democratic gains in Washington.
At a Senate forum in Lakewood last week, four Republicans slammed ruling Democrats on what they call out-of-control spending and a bungled health reform effort. Gay marriage? Abortion? They didn’t even come up.
“This is about putting first things first, and right now, that’s Democrats and the economy,” said former Republican state Sen. John Andrews, who teaches at Colorado Christian University and moderated the Republican forums for governor and Senate.
State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, urged the same tack before dropping out of the governor’s race, and he urged candidate Scott McInnis, a former congressman, to do the same.
“We can’t judge harshly those who disagree with us,” Penry said. “The best tool is persuasion, not judgment.”
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Colorado Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams said Republicans win races when they focus on fiscal responsibility, security and education. He said Republicans suffered heavy losses in Colorado in 2006 and 2008 because the national Republican Party failed to honor those principles and went on a spending spree with earmarks that were out of control.
“Whether moderate or conservative, Republicans are now reclaiming the mantle of fiscal responsibility,” Wadhams said.
That’s the same analysis of one Republican running for Senate. Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton was asked at the Lakewood forum why Republicans have been losing in recent elections. She said the GOP “blew it” on fiscal responsibility and must persuade voters that Republicans are best trusted with the nation’s pocketbook.
Another Republican Senate hopeful, businessman Cleve Tidwell, had a succinct analysis of the mood of the nation’s Republicans.
“This is an economical thing we’re dealing with right now,” Tidwell said.
Many conservative voters seem thrilled with the GOP strategy to focus on the economy and government spending, not social questions.
“I don’t give a damn about that,” said 79-year-old Pat Butler of Lakewood, who attended a recent forum of GOP Senate hopefuls. “That personal stuff, that’s private. I want to talk about bringing this country back around. I think we ought to get down to the basics.”
Another Republican at the Senate forum, accountant Dawne Murray of Denver, agreed.
“Certainly the economy is at the forefront right now,” she said. “It’s jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Andrews said that Republican “core values” haven’t changed, though.
“Republicans still have core beliefs of protecting unborn children, protecting traditional marriage and making sure America is one nation under God,” he said.
Democrats hold a majority in both chambers of Colorado’s statehouse, the governorship, five of seven congressional seats and both U.S. Senate seats. Barack Obama won the state in the 2008 presidential campaign.
In 2010, Republicans are looking to unseat Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, whom Ritter appointed after Ken Salazar became Obama’s interior secretary. Betsy Markey, a first-term Democrat who represents the traditionally Republican 4th Congressional District, also faces a tough re-election campaign.