The Magazine

The Colorado Model

The Democrats' plan for turning red states blue.

Jul 21, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 42 • By FRED BARNES
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As for the 2008 race, that confidential memo, dated January 23, fell into the hands of a Republican activist and was first reported on January 29 by Lynn Bartels of the Rocky Mountain News. It had been drafted by Democratic strategist Dominic DelPapa and sent to Al Yates, the guru of the rich liberals. They downplayed its significance, though it memorably declared the plan would "define Schaffer/foot on throat." At the very least the memo showed the magnitude of the effort to drive Republicans deeper into the minority in Colorado.

And that effort draws powerful support from a liberal infrastructure that conservatives aren't close to matching. For years, the Independence Institute, founded in 1985 by John Andrews and headed by Tom Tancredo before he was elected to the U.S. House, stood alone as an influential intellectual and political force in Colorado. (Later Andrews was Republican leader of the Colorado senate.) In 1999, Rutt Bridges started the Bighorn Center for Public Policy, and a year later the Bell Policy Center was created specifically to counter the Independence Institute--prompting the institute's Caldara to quip, the Bell center should be called the Dependence Institute.

That was only the beginning of the buildup. Eric O'Keefe, chairman of the conservative Sam Adams Alliance in Chicago, says there are seven "capacities" that are required to drive a successful political strategy and keep it on offense: the capacity to generate intellectual ammunition, to pursue investigations, to mobilize for elections, to fight media bias, to pursue strategic litigation, to train new leaders, and to sustain a presence in the new media. Colorado liberals have now created institutions that possess all seven capacities. By working together, they generate political noise and attract press coverage. Explains Caldara, "Build an echo chamber and the media laps it up."

First, there are the think tanks such as Bighorn and Bell and supposedly nonpartisan political advocacy groups like the Colorado clone of MoveOn.org called ProgressNowAction.org, founded in 2005. Another clone, this one a local version of Media Matters known as Colorado Media Matters, was created two years ago to harass journalists and editorial writers who don't push the liberal line.

There's a "public interest" law firm, Colorado Ethics Watch, established in 2006, plus an online newspaper, the Colorado Independent, with a team of reporters to ferret out wrongdoing by Republicans, also begun in 2006. And there's a school to train new liberal leaders, the Center for Progressive Leadership Colorado, as well as new media outlets with bloggers and online news and gossip, including ColoradoPols.com and SquareState.net. That covers all seven capacities. Count them.

It's unclear exactly who is funding these outfits, since they don't have to disclose their donors. But the band of rich liberals are assumed to be the biggest contributors. And that's part of the problem for conservatives and Republicans. They don't have a cadre of what Caldara calls "super spenders" to tap for money, and Republicans have lacked the gumption and foresight to build a comparable conservative infrastructure.

To their distress, Republicans have discovered how skillful the liberal collective is at bedeviling them. It works quite simply. The investigative arm uncovers some alleged wrongdoing by a Republican candidate or official or plays up what someone else has claimed. Then Ethics Watch steps in and demands an official investigation, and ProgressNowAction.org jumps on the story. This is synergy at work. It spurs political chatter. Finally, the mainstream media are forced to report on it.

Republican secretary of state Mike Coffman was hounded for months by Colorado Confidential, now the Colorado Independent, for allowing a state employee to run a side business and not reporting a supposed conflict of interest too microscopic to be worth explaining. The mainstream media eventually picked up the story, and Colorado Ethics Watch filed a formal complaint. Later, an official audit found no wrongdoing, but only after Coffman had been publicly pilloried. The episode didn't help his current campaign for a U.S. House seat.

Caldara, too, has been targeted by the liberal groups. He used the phrase "bitch slapped" on his late-night talk radio show. Colorado Media Matters complained, and Caldara says ProgressNowAction.org sought to get advertisers to drop his show. "They tried to find a way to Imus me," Caldara says. He's still on the air.