Long road to November started at caucuses

(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?

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