DENVER -- One Republican Party candidate for governor is accused of plagiarism, another of misusing campaign money. What's a political party to do?
Well, in Colorado, the GOP must first get through the primary election. But you can be sure party insiders -- and potential candidates such as Tom Tancredo
and Josh Penry
-- are considering all their options.
GOP frontrunner Scott McInnis
is accused of plagiarizing a series of papers on water issues
for which he received $300,000 from a family foundation (he said last week he'll return the money). His opponent, Dan Maes
, popular among the Tea Party set, faces his own problems, having paid a $17,500 fine
over campaign finance issues.
Both men may say they're in it to win it. But polls taken after the McInnis plagiarism-allegation bombshell
indicate clear sailing for Democratic nominee Mayor John Hickenlooper of Denver
against either of the two Republicans.
Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams hopes to keep voters on board his ship, especially newly energized voters such as the Tea Party contingent. To that end, he insisted in a statement
last week, "Hundreds of thousands of Colorado Republicans will vote in the primary election to determine our nominees for every office from county commissioner to U.S. senator and governor and that is how it should be."
Jennifer Raiffie, a 40-year-old Thornton woman who first got involved in politics as a volunteer with Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign two years ago, posted a long note on Facebook expressing her displeasure
with the current state of affairs.
"I think it's sad," she said Monday. "I think the party failed. I think we, the grassroots, failed, and the voters have failed to properly vet our candidates. The current state is a result of our lack of engagement."
The primary election is slated for Aug. 10, but many voters will start receiving ballots in the mail this week. What those voters decide will determine how party insiders may be able to influence the ultimate November race.
Here's a look at some potential scenarios:
Maes wins the primary.
If Maes wins, he won't back down. He persevered to a narrow win over McInnis at the state assembly despite being virtually ignored by the party power structure, which convinced a more promising challenger to exit the race last November. He's got to think McInnis' mess is a light at the end of his tunnel.
The businessman is pledging to shrink government, lower taxes and cut regulation of the oil and gas industry. But if Maes is the GOP candidate, his poorly financed campaign is unlikely to get any outside financial help from the party. And his campaign finance issues and failure to file corporate documents for his businesses are likely to be issues.
"I can't imagine Maes winning the general," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
This is the first time Maes has ever run for office, he has little name recognition, has demonstrated limited fundraising ability, and his finances are now being questioned by some of his donors
McInnis wins the primary -- and sticks with it.
McInnis attracted 300 supporters to a fundraiser Saturday, he attended meetings of the Republican Governors Association, and he planned to speak to the Farm Bureau in Alamosa on Monday, according to a message posted on his campaign Web site
Sunday and shared on his Facebook page. So even though editorial boards at The Denver Post
and The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
have called for him to step aside, McInnis is still "full speed ahead!" as his Facebook page says. With the plagiarism allegations hanging over him, this is likely his last shot at elected office.
"If he drops out, he's through." Sabato said. "He's never coming back politically. It's sink or swim here, and even though he has a big lead weight around his neck, he's going to try to swim."
Sabato points to the Illinois U.S. Senate race
, where both candidates have been caught up in controversy.
"You've got two Senate candidates mired in scandal and one of them is going to win," he said. "We do live in a different era. These things would have ended candidacies 15 or 20 years ago. Now, you can't absolutely rule them out."
And in a year with a GOP tailwind, McInnis might seriously consider sticking it out.
His party, however, has got to be worried about the campaign ads that center on plagiarism and his refusal to release personal financial records, among other things.
Many party insiders have got to be hoping
that . . .
McInnis wins the primary and drops out of the race immediately.
Already, many are calling for McInnis to exit the race if he wins the primary, and he might decide he doesn't want to go through the pummeling he'll get from Democrats in the general election. It's likely party insiders will push hard for him to exit if he wins.
This would allow the state Republican Central Committee to appoint a replacement for the November ballot. Already, the jockeying for position is going on, led by former representative and presidential candidate Tancredo, known for his outspoken opposition to illegal immigration.
Last week, Tancredo even said he expected McInnis to quit the race
, called for him to step down and offered himself up as a potential candidate.
GOP volunteer Raiffie works for a nonprofit organization run by Tancredo and says the former candidate is "seriously evaluating all options." Interestingly, three staffers who abandoned McInnis late last week
used to work for Tancredo.
"I know the influx of support to get Tom to run has been overwhelming," she said. "We're getting support from both inside and outside the state. If there's a way to get on the ballot, he will. He obviously believes he's a much more credible and electable candidate."
To be electable, however, Tancredo must appeal not only to the 35 percent of active Colorado voters registered as Republicans but to the 31 percent who aren't affiliated with either party. Tancredo created a stir recently
by saying at a campaign rally that President Barack Obama is the biggest threat the United States has ever faced.
Former Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry is another potential contender. He was running for governor until acquiescing
to urgings from party insiders last November to step aside for McInnis. (They've all got to be kicking themselves now). This spring, Penry took over as campaign manager for U.S. Senate candidate and former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. But he's certain to answer
if those insiders who pushed him out come begging for forgiveness.
Then there's Bruce Benson, a wealthy oil man who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994 and now is president of the University of Colorado. He'd likely bring some of his own money to the race and he'd be popular among GOP insiders.
One major problem faced by any candidate who steps in by appointment after the primary is fundraising. Colorado limits individual donations to gubernatorial candidates to $525 per election cycle. Any substitute candidate will have to rely on the state party, the Republican Governors Association
and 527s or political action committees to help out -- even though they won't be able to coordinate on strategy.
"Our position on Colorado is the same as it was two weeks ago or two months ago," said Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for the RGA. "We intend to be engaged and win. . . . Our view of Colorado as a very winnable race has not changed a bit."
Meanwhile, many in the GOP are worried
about the impact the governor's race could have on the rest of the ticket. One blog posted a video of the Hindenburg disaster
under the title "Governor's Race Update."
What's certain in Colorado's GOP race for governor is -- uncertainty.
"This election is so unique," said Raiffie, who wrote in Tancredo's name when she cast her ballot for governor at the state assembly. "The times have been changing so much day to day. Anything's possible."