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Optimistic Colorado GOP looks to regain footing

Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

LITTLETON, Colo. ” Colorado Republicans gathered recently for dinner in a hotel ballroom found unusual centerpieces on their tables: yellow plastic construction hats.

We must rebuild, a parade of GOP bigwigs exhorted the faithful.

Once easy territory for the party, Colorado has turned to Democrats in a profound way. But interestingly, the GOP rebuilding playbook doesn’t include big policy changes or ideas ” just highlighting where ruling Democrats fail.

Republicans have their work cut out for them. Barack Obama toasted his nomination in Denver and became the first Democrat to carry Colorado since 1992. Democrats knocked off three-term conservative Rep. Marilyn Musgrave in the 4th District, one held by the GOP for more than 30 years. Democrats seized a Senate seat to hold both for the first time since the 1970s. And they picked up local races in suburban Denver territory once safely in Republican hands.

“There is hope on the way,” said Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, whose district includes Colorado Springs.

Democrats hold seven of the state’s nine seats in Congress, Lamborn pointed out. “We can bring that back, though.”

The question is how.

So far, the party seems uninterested in major changes. Party insiders overwhelmingly re-elected Chairman Dick Wadhams to another two-year term. The vote came even though Wadhams presided over the disastrous 2008 races and managed the negative and failed Senate campaign of former Rep. Bob Schaffer.

Most agree with Wadhams’ insistence that the GOP’s miserable 2008 came because of the unpopularity of then-President Bush and national Republicans, not missteps by Colorado Republicans.

“We don’t need to rethink our identity at all. Colorado remains a center-right state,” said John Andrews, who was president of the state Senate when his party lost control of the chamber in 2004.

There are some Republican voices calling for change, though. Tom Stone, a former Eagle County commissioner, challenged Wadhams for the chairman’s post.

Stone says the state GOP needs to learn from Democrats. That is, find a common theme, and do a better job using technology to whip up supporters.

“Republicans have lost their voice because they’re mostly focused on the negative,” said Stone, who has proposed the state GOP write a “Compact with Colorado” patterned after the national GOP’s successful “Contract with America” campaign in 1994.

Stone said Republicans need to focus on all 64 counties, not just major population centers on the Front Range. They also must use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

“We have to change the conversation,” Stone said.

Probable Republican candidates for 2010 say they’re trying to do so.

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck is canvassing Colorado for a statewide run next year, possibly against newly appointed Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. Talking from his car during a recent road trip, Buck said the party will revive.

“The way we get there is to recover our brand, to show people we really are the party of fiscal responsibility and limited government,” Buck said.

Rep. Mike Coffman said the party needs to define itself by showing where it disagrees with Democrats.

“We have a battle before us,” Coffman told Republicans at the dinner. “This fight is all of our fight, each and every one of us, so that in 2010, we win seats back, all the way from Congress to the courthouse.”

Republicans taking the podium ” many of them out of office ” gushed how they’re out of their postelection funk.

“I sense a positive attitude, a let’s-go-get-’em feeling,” said Bob Beauprez, a two-term Republican member of Congress who left his suburban Denver seat for an unsuccessful run for governor in 2006.

“I can’t tell you how great it feels to walk into a room of jazzed-up Republicans,” roared Mark Hillman, former Republican Leader in the Colorado Senate and now a Republican National Committeeman.

“This is not the demeanor of a party with its tail between its legs,” said Andrews, who heads a conservative think tank at Colorado Christian University.

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