(Denver Post, May 30) An Alaska mayor shocks the governor in a primary, then humbles an ex-governor in the general election, then electrifies the nation as John McCain’s running mate. A legislator from the laughing-stock Massachusetts Republicans upsets the attorney general to capture a perennially Democratic Senate seat. A lowly Pennsylvania congressman ignores the president’s support for a party-switching senator and retires him in a primary, Obama endorsement and all.You know their names. In ousting Arlen Specter, Joe Sestak (corrupt job offer notwithstanding) followed a pattern set by Scott Brown and Sarah Palin. Voters in both parties are turning to conviction candidates and giving resume’ candidates the boot. Palin’s rollicking speech at DU last weekend, hours after the state Republican convention, got me wondering whether the same pattern fits Colorado.Laughing that it was fun to do politics at an ice rink, the Wasilla hockey mom skated in to forecheck the Messiah himself. Her deft indictment of Mr. Obama’s policies delighted the crowd of several thousand, about half of them Tea Partiers by a show of hands. With her peroration on Reagan as a model of the “lifeguard leadership” America needs, you could hear Sarah asking herself: “Should I run in 2012?”Time will tell. Right now there is 2010 to deal with, and on a Saturday that had seen conventional wisdom toppled among both Democrats and Republicans, something else you could hear was our state’s previously favored hopefuls for senator and governor frantically recalculating their chances.Jane Norton and Ken Buck, Senate rivals in the August GOP primary, both attended the Palin event. Once the underdog, he was riding a 77% delegate majority and positive media buzz. She was coming off several days of rough press and party grumbling over her decision to bypass the convention and file petitions. Listening in on their thoughts that night would have been fascinating. Though still formidable in likability, endorsements, and funding, the former lieutenant governor now clearly has a race on her hands. For all that Norton was recently lauded by Gov. Palin as a “pink elephant,” a conservative woman to watch, the pit bull of the hour seems to be Buck.The same dramatic reversal of fortune, like something out of the movies, has befallen Michael Bennet and Andrew Romanoff, Senate rivals on the Democratic side. Romanoff, feisty and buoyant, radiates conviction. Bennet has the resume’, but he plods. The incumbent’s war chest and White House backing may prove no more decisive for him than they were for poor Arlen Specter.It was in the race for governor, though, that May 22 invited the craziest speculation on who might become Colorado’s Sarah Palin. Evergreen businessman Dan Maes, authentic and fearless but politically unknown, announced in early 2009 against Gov. Bill Ritter. Fat chance. Like most Republicans, I shrugged and awaited the serious contenders. First came former congressman Scott McInnis, then state Sen. Josh Penry, then (very briefly) former presidential candidate Tom Tancredo. But suddenly last November, Penry and Tancredo were out. This January, Ritter too was out. And now as June begins, McInnis sits SECOND on the ballot behind, of all people, Dan Maes.Is it another case of conviction trumping resume’? If latecomer Joe Gschwendtner gains traction, does a three-way primary (like Palin’s in 2006) help Maes? Could Dauntless Dan, if nominated by the GOP, beat the media’s darling, John Hickenlooper? There is precedent. Back in 1962, the untried John Love took out Democrat Gov. Steve McNichols. Things are at a boil, and as Samuel Adams of Boston Tea Party fame observed, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.” Americans and Coloradans, fired up about over-government, have made this a year of surprises already. My hunch is we haven’t seen anything yet.
(Denver Post, Mar. 21) Political inexperience was the gold standard among 30 of my neighbors at a precinct caucus in Centennial last week. Fellow Republicans viewed the 2010 contenders for senator and governor with the hard eyes of swindle victims or jilted lovers. The less involved a candidate had been with our party’s time in state and national office over the past dozen years, the more acceptable he or she seemed for nomination this year.
Caucus night in March was only the first step on a long road to election night in November, 225 days from now. But it dramatized the “once burned, twice shy” distrust of government that will shape the choices made by Colorado voters in GOP, Democratic, and independent ranks. Trust when broken is hard to restore. That’s the penalty box our whole political system is in right now. Unpredictable new forces are in play as this campaign unfolds.
The Tuesday meeting at a school library near our house was older, white, and mostly men. Rainbow America we were not, but we gathered with a love for this land of liberty and a desire to make a difference. Before things started, there was laughter and applause when someone pointed to a presidential book display featuring Barack Obama and George Washington and quipped, “The goal is a government with less of him and more of HIM.
In the precinct straw poll for a nominee to regain the US Senate seat from Democrats Michael Bennet or Andrew Romanoff, Sedalia businessman and former state Sen. Tom Wiens took 40%, followed by former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton with 37% and district attorney Ken Buck with 23%. In the trial heat for governor, Evergreen businessman and rookie candidate Dan Maes got a notable 44%, trailing former congressman Scott McInnis, the prohibitive favorite, who had 56%.
Our tiny sample largely tracked the statewide Republican tallies, though it was Ken Buck who ran close with Jane Norton in the overall count. More striking to me than the percentages was the mood in the room. A burly guy named Larry spoke for many with his warnings of the tax-and-spend taint attaching to an ex-congressman and an ex- lieutenant governor. Countering him with the case for McInnis and Norton was the more youthful and smooth-spoken Cole, but you could see many skeptical frowns.
I’m uncommitted in both races, and cast a secret ballot that night. Any of the GOP contenders, whatever their shortcomings or the party’s past lapses, would obviously work harder for limited government – the imperative right now, before our country goes bankrupt – than would a Sen. Bennet, a Sen. Romanoff, or a Gov. John Hickenlooper as liberal Democrats. That’s why my party must not self-immolate in the 2010 primary as we did in the 2006 gubernatorial bloodbath. The prize is November.
Dems actually face a tougher task with this year’s fed-up electorate than my side does. Their Colorado ticket will be a pair of entitlement-peddling, union-bought insiders by whatever names. Our nominees can definitely take outside position against that. Whether Republicans are ready to use power more responsibly this time, if trusted with it again, is another question. Bluntly acknowledging that question would be a good start; frontrunners take note.
Nothing can be taken for granted. Lent is a far piece from Halloween. What if an autumn house of horrors found America at war with Iran? The incumbent party might benefit decisively from a rally to the flag. Half a year is an eternity in politics, we’ve learned again and again.
“I’m giving the Republicans one more chance,” Doug told our caucus. Bitterly disillusioned by McCain after 2008, he’s back as a delegate this spring. As buyers’ remorse with Obama deepens, will voters similarly gamble and grant the GOP a do-over?