Saying he's "tired of the nuts
who have no grasp of what the state party's role is," Colorado Republican Chairman Dick Wadhams won't run for re-election, setting up a potential free-for-all for the top job in one of the few states where GOP results were mixed
in the 2010 midterms.
The departure of Wadhams, a political fixture in what's become a purple state, could mean trouble for the GOP going into the 2012 presidential election. With tea party activists fired up to take control of the party operations, despite failures of their annointed candidates in the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, Wadhams cautioned the party stands the chance of losing Colorado's large unaffiliated voter base.
, the GOP candidate for governor this past November, won only 11 percent of the vote after former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo
bolted to a third party to run against him. Democrat John Hickenlooper
, then Denver mayor, won the governor's seat
handily as Republicans devolved into a nasty
battle over which candidate to support. Some criticized Wadhams for not vetting candidates such as the unknown Maes, while others complained that the party chairman acted against grassroots activists who supported Maes and others backed by the tea party.
That rift spilled over into the often-overlooked battle for state party chair.
State Sen. Ted Harvey announced plans to challenge
Wadhams in the March election, saying he would bring "better talent, funding and conservative leadership than we have had in the race." Tancredo, who abandoned the American Constitution Party after the election to return to the GOP, also spoke out against Wadhams being elected to a third term as party chairman.
Meanwhile, Maes referred to Harvey as a "traitor"
who assisted the "old guard mentality" (i.e., Tancredo) in a recent Facebook post.
Wadhams said he expected to win re-election, but had tired of "those who are obsessed with seeing conspiracies around every corner." In an e-mail to state central committee
members, he cautioned against letting the party be taken over by those who claim the banner of true conservatives, writing that "the ability of Colorado Republicans to win and retain the votes of hundreds of thousands of unaffiliated swing voters in 2012 will be severely undermined."
Indeed, unaffiliated voters delivered a narrow November victory
to incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet
over tea party-backed GOP challenger Ken Buck
. Those voters make up about one-third of the state's voting base, and also helped Barack Obama win the state in 2008.
"Dick is undoubtedly correct that winning unaffiliated voters is the key to winning a statewide majority," Colorado conservative blogger Joshua Sharf
wrote. "As is true for both parties, winning without your base, or with only your base, isn't possible."
What happens next in Colorado will determine the strength of the tea party activists and their allies in the far right of the party. GOP primary challenges from the right in the past often set the stage for Democratic victories, with the Democrats selecting moderate candidates and creating organizations outside the party
to support their candidates. And despite losses in the Senate and governor's races, the GOP did win back two U.S. House seats, two statewide elected offices and a majority in the state House in the 2010 election.
More candidates are likely to enter the GOP chairman's race with Wadhams' exit -- and the race may be a true test of the old guard vs. the new activists.