HUDSON | In politics, it’s easier to be right than to win; just ask any loser
Author: Miller Hudson - April 24, 2018 - Updated: April 24, 2018
The political ambush is difficult to pull off. Betrayal is always a risk (the opposing party may serve as your public adversary, but one’s personal enemies are more likely to be sharing a beer with you). Campaign managers must tread carefully. Finance disclosure reports often deposit a trail of breadcrumbs leading back to dirty trick conspirators, while what looks like an undefended vulnerability can prove a trap. Defensive strategy prioritizes ‘inoculation’: the pre-emptive copping to DUIs, restraining orders, rehab residencies, unpaid child support payments and bankruptcies. With the advent of the Internet, there are few skeletons that remain reliably stuffed into a candidate’s closet. Opposition research can locate your prom date, former spouses, disgruntled co-workers, boot camp buddies and credit scores.
TV journalist Adam Schrager and former Republican legislator Rob Witwer wrote the tale of Colorado Democrats’ surprising return to majority dominance at the Legislature during the ought years of the 21stcentury, following thirty years adrift as a powerless minority. In their book, “Blueprint”, they explain how it turned out Democrats didn’t have any problems a handful of billionaires couldn’t solve for them. The millions required to engineer this turnaround were funneled through opaque and shadowy committees – all legally, of course. Republicans didn’t see this assault coming until it was too late to respond. Today, in contrast, Colorado’s political battlefield is stalked by deceptively named organizations, including ‘false flag’ committees created solely to steer the other party’s primary voters. (It’s not just the Russians who are trying to influence Colorado elections.)
Better than covert manipulation for Democrats has been the Republican penchant for eliminating its most attractive general election candidates in statewide races. All things being equal, Governor Scott McInnis should be finishing up his second term this year. 2010 was a “wave” year for Republicans across the country, yet not in Colorado. Beneath a ceaseless flogging in the Denver Post for accepting a $200,000 fee for a water report that was partially plagiarized from the writings of Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs, Republicans opted for the unknown Dan Maes and then promptly fractured when Tom Tancredo jumped into the race as a Constitution Party candidate. In what has to rank as one of the most hypocritical editorials ever published in our state, the Denver Post then admonished Republican voters for having selected the patently unqualified Maes, ignoring its own pummeling of McInnis. John Hickenlooper barely broke 50% despite this tumult.
Two years ago Republicans opted for El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn as their candidate in the U. S. Senate race against Michael Bennet, following Glenn’s barn-burning diatribe at the state assembly. I happened to attend this speech and it was as remarkable a display of oratory, even if infringing a little on lunacy, as I have ever witnessed. Winning a hair more than 70% of the delegate vote, Glenn blew his competitors off the ballot. The best opportunity to remove an incumbent is at their second election, when voters still haven’t grown entirely familiar and comfortable with their choice. Bennet had to be tickled that the poorly funded, relatively unknown Glenn went on to win the Republican primary. It is rumored that Democrats, masquerading as Colorado conservatives, buried Republican primary voters in an avalanche of mailers urging support for Glenn. If true, it proved money well spent.
And now we can examine the 2018 Governor’s race. The candidate who most worried Democrats was Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. She meets long time Republican campaign manager Dick Wadhams’ test: that your candidate must be likeable. Despite a hapless campaign roll out, Coffman is an effective campaigner who would have expanded the Republican vote. Soft on gays and abortion she was crushed at her assembly. With unaffiliated voters outnumbering both Democrats and Republicans, victorious campaigns in Colorado need to rely on the math of addition, not subtraction.
In a conversation with a Republican friend a dozen years ago, I was asked whom his party should run against the relatively untested Bill Ritter. I said, “You aren’t going to like my answer.” He insisted, so I suggested, “Round up three wise men and travel to Beulah to recruit House Speaker Lola Spradley.” He replied, “No! We can’t do that. She supports windmills and renewable energy. She also sounds like a damned feminist half the time.” I’d warned him he wouldn’t care for my advice and I never worried he would take it, either.
Walker Stapleton, the likely but hardly certain Republican winner of this year’s Gubernatorial primary, will prove a credible general election candidate. But in what is likely to prove a tough year for any Republican on the ballot in Colorado, he will face an uphill fight with the survivor among the Democrats in the race. Political parties cannot and should not think of themselves as ideological armies. They are tools for waging campaigns. After decades of defeat, it’s comforting to embrace being right over winning. However, that choice rarely ends well. Just ask Colorado Democrats.