Rocky Mountain Lows: Colorado Republicans Stumbling Toward Primary Finish Line

July 26, 2010 4:32 a.m.

With just days to go before the August 10 Senate and gubernatorial primaries, Colorado Republicans are tripping, sparring and in some cases, falling apart. Each of the four major Republican candidates in the Senate and gubernatorial races seems to have done at least some self-inflicted damage recently. It’s created an odd dynamic in which many of these Republican candidates haven’t been able to truly capitalize on their opponent’s troubles — simply because they’ve been too busy dealing with their own.Let’s run them down:

Scott McInnis:
Two weeks ago, former Rep. Scott McInnis was the clear frontrunner in the Republican gubernatorial primary. But then The Denver Post revealed instances of apparent plagiarism in a series of essays on water policy that McInnis was paid $300,000 to write in 2005 and 2006. McInnis is now being called on to drop out, has had another possible example of plagiarism discovered and has sent the state party scrambling to prepare potential replacements. McInnis insists he’s staying in the race, but the story isn’t going away.

Dan Maes:
Meanwhile, McInnis’ primary opponent, Dan Maes, faces questions of his own. A Tea Party candidate running at least in part on his business acumen, Maes has agreed to pay $17,500 in fines for campaign finance violations — including allegations that he inappropriately paid himself $42,000 in mileage reimbursements.

Maes’ reputation took another hit after the release of his tax returns. The numbers for a credit reporting business that he founded and sold don’t quite back up Maes’ claims about his business skills. Multiple times over the past few years, Maes has struggled to earn enough income to clear the poverty line. “We could go bankrupt doing this,” Maes said of his campaign during a recent interview, according to the Post, before changing tone: “I won’t let that happen…I refuse to be financially irresponsible. I won’t lose my home. But I’ll go to my very last dime if I have to. Our country is in a very dangerous place, and if we don’t stop this, we will all head over a cliff.”

Jane Norton:
Over in the Senate race, establishment pick Jane Norton is busy securing the Islamophobe vote. As part of a revamping of her website, Norton featured a still from a video that included a headline reading “Obama doctrine to make clear no war on Islam.” Like it was a bad thing. During a taped debate a few weeks later, responding to a question about NASA’s budget, she offered this doozy: “We need a NASA budget that doesn’t cater to making Muslims feel good.” And when Tom Tancredo (more on him later) made a statement at a rally that President Obama is a bigger threat to the U.S. than Al Qaeda, Norton cornered her opponent, Tea Party candidate Ken Buck, by saying there was some “truth” to what Tancredo said — after Buck had been caught on tape saying “I can’t believe that guy opened his mouth.” Which brings us to….

Ken Buck:
Buck eventually caved, and said that he too saw the “truth” in Tancredo’s statement. But that incident was relatively trivial compared to last week, when Buck had a run-in with every politician’s worst enemy 2.0: the viral gaffe. At a campaign event, with the cameras rolling, Buck was asked by an audience member: “Why should we vote for you?” Why should you vote for me? Buck responded: “Because I don’t wear high heels.” Oops. Enter YouTube. Buck’s response may have been an oblique response to a Norton ad that called on him to “be man enough” to run his own attack ads. Still, he’s probably already wishing he’d kept his mouth shut. In a debate that aired Sunday, he admits it “wasn’t very funny.” And Norton is already up with an ad skewering him for the comment.

Over the weekend, reports surfaced that Buck has had yet another adventure with a recording device. This time, a Democratic operative recorded Buck saying “will you tell those dumbasses at the Tea Party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I’m on the camera?” That’s not likely to play well with his Tea Party backers… “They’ve had a mic on me for 16 months,” Buck explained later. “There are times of frustration where I vent.”

Tom Tancredo:
And then there’s Tom Tancredo. Where to start? As recently as Friday, he went too far for even Fox News, calling for Obama’s impeachment, and doubling down on his statement that the President is “a more serious threat to America than al Qaeda.” Even Fox News’ Megyn Kelly told him it was “tough to take you seriously.” (This from someone who earlier this month asked a New Black Panther if he had ever called a white person a “cracker.”)

Tancredo has already made himself a presence in the Senate race. But it’s the gubernatorial race where he’s really making a stink. Tancredo is threatening to run as a third party candidate if McInnis and Maes don’t pledge to drop out after the primary (which would let the GOP pick a new nominee). In a poll conducted in the wake of the McInnis scandal, state Republican voters named Tancredo the “strongest Republican gubernatorial candidate.” But a third-party Tancredo would probably hurt Republicans more than Democrats in the general election, and the state party chair has said he is “disappointed” with Tancredo’s actions.

For Democrats, this mess in the Colorado GOP probably seems like a very good thing. The TPM Poll Average for both these races shows Democrats either trailing or in very close races with their potential Republican foes in the general election. But after August 10, no matter who wins and no matter who they’re facing, Dems will start the general election with a soft spot to aim at.

Late Update: Tancredo has made good on his threat and has announced he’s entering the gubernatorial race.

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