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Colorado’s GOP on a Roll

With one prominent exception.

Jul 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 42 • By FRED BARNES
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Colorado’s GOP on a Roll

Norton v. Buck

Colorado, the vanguard of a Democratic juggernaut for three straight election cycles, has flipped. To wit:

President Obama won Colorado handily in 2008 (54 percent to 45 percent for John McCain), but his popularity dropped precipitously last year and hasn’t recovered. “The state voted for change,” says political consultant Floyd Ciruli. “It did not vote for a liberal agenda.”

House minority leader John Boehner spoke at a gathering of Republican donors here last week. The result was $800,000 in contributions to help capture House seats in the midterm election in November. It was, Boehner said, the biggest haul at a regional fundraising event by the National Republican Congressional Committee since the new McCain-Feingold campaign finance rules went into effect in 2003.

 In the Colorado Senate race, both Republican candidates, former lieutenant governor Jane Norton and county prosecutor Ken Buck, are running ahead of (appointed) Senator Michael Bennett and his Democratic primary challenger, Andrew Romanoff. Mail ballots in the August 10 primary are going out this week.

Meanwhile, Republican Cory Gardner has an excellent chance of unseating Democratic representative Betsy Markey in the House district in eastern Colorado. And Republicans have an outside chance of ousting two other House Democrats, John Salazar and Ed Perlmutter. Their prospects of gaining control of the lower house of the Colorado legislature are reasonably good.

But then there’s the race for governor, the centerpiece of Republican hopes in Colorado in 2010. Republican Scott McInnis, 57, elbowed his chief primary foe, 34-year-old state senator Josh Penry, out of the primary contest, and he’s led the Democratic candidate, popular Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, for months. But now McInnis is in serious peril, and his advantage in the polls is likely to vanish.

Jon Caldara, who heads the Independence Institute here, has what he calls “Caldara’s political axiom number one”: There is nothing that Republicans can’t screw up. In 2004 and 2006, poisonous primary battles contributed to Republican losses in elections for governor and senator. Republicans have also been tardy in matching the infrastructure of websites and front groups that back Democrats. Nor do they have the rich donors that fund Colorado Democrats. 

The trouble this time was caused by McInnis himself. He was paid $300,000 by the Hasan Family Foundation for a 150-page report on water (“Musings on Water”). It turns out portions are identical to a 1984 essay by Gregory J. Hobbs, now a state supreme court justice. Last week, the Denver Post broke the story under a blaring front-page headline: “Judge’s water essay copied. Expert: McInnis’ work, submitted as ‘original,’ plagiarizes words, ideas.”

McInnis dismissed the matter as a “non-issue” and blamed the researcher he’d hired, Rolly Fischer, for lifting paragraphs from the Hobbs essay. In response, Fischer accused McInnis of lying and said he refused to sign a letter accepting responsibility.

A quickie poll by the Denver Post found that 20 percent of Republican voters who’d favored McInnis now intend to vote for someone else. McInnis said he would make “full payment arrangements” to reimburse the foundation and insisted he won’t drop out. “I’m in it to win it,” he said. 

Both the Denver Post and Grand Junction Sentinel, McInnis’s hometown paper, urged him to quit the race. And Republican leaders began private discussions about replacing McInnis. This would be difficult unless McInnis won the primary, then agreed to step down—an unlikely scenario. Dan Maes, McInnis’s lone primary opponent, is regarded as having little chance of defeating Hickenlooper.

Will the McInnis mess harm other Republican campaigns? Maybe, but given the strong Republican tide in Colorado, especially among the third of the electorate registered as “unaffiliated,” the fallout may be minimal.

The controversy did show, however, the influence of the web of liberal groups that target Republicans. “The progressive infrastructure in Colorado is alive and well,” says Rob Witwer, coauthor of The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado. Months before the Denver Post’s story, liberal blogger Jason Salzman was raising questions about why McInnis was paid $300,000 by a foundation in 2005 and 2006 after he’d retired from the House. 

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