GOP sweating out effect of governor’s race

Top of ticket could sink rest or free cash for other contests

DENVER | The disaster that is the Colorado Republican gubernatorial campaign could end up dragging down the rest of the party’s ticket. Or it could benefit other GOP candidates by freeing up resources and creating a sense of urgency among activists.

Those are the bad-news-good-news scenarios being floated as Colorado politicos survey the wreckage of the Colorado Republican Party’s efforts to nominate a viable candidate in the once eminently winnable governor’s race.

Dan Maes, the unlikely winner of last month’s Republican primary, refused to pull his name off the November ballot by Friday’s deadline. That ended the party’s last-ditch hopes of replacing him with a write-in candidate such as former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton.

“He is the Republican nominee. He’s the Republican candidate,” said state party chairman Dick Wadhams, sounding more resigned than enthusiastic. “But other races will not be affected by what’s going on in the governor’s race, which is very chaotic.”

That might be an understatement. Republicans must contend not only with the embattled Mr. Maes, but also with the candidacy of former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, who entered the race last month as an alternative to Mr. Maes. The three-way contest all but guarantees a victory for the Democratic pick, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

All this has Democrats privately gleeful about the embattled Mr. Maes not only losing the gubernatorial race, but potentially tainting the rest of the party’s slate. Even if other candidates are able to distance themselves from him, the Maes nomination means less fundraising and independent advertising for the governor’s race, which traditionally benefits candidates down the party’s food chain.

For example, the Republican Governors Association, which was ready to sink as much as $9 million in the race before the Aug. 10 primary, has decided to spend its campaign cash elsewhere, according to Republicans.

In a highly unusual move, a rash of top Republicans - including former Sen. Hank Brown and Senate nominee Ken Buck - withdrew their endorsements of Mr. Maes late last week after the Denver Post reported that he had embellished his record as a law-enforcement officer in Kansas.

Mr. Maes continued to frame efforts to push him out of the race as a battle between regular folks and the party establishment.

“After speaking with, and hearing from, numerous Coloradans - from former Senators to family farmers - I’ve determined that I cannot turn my back on the 200,000 voters who nominated me to run for this office,” Mr. Maes said Friday in a Facebook post.

But Colorado Republicans have one big plus in their column, and it may be enough: 2010 is a Republican year. Politicos say Republican voters and their cousins in the “tea party” and 9/12 movement are so electrified that even a discredited gubernatorial nominee won’t derail other Republican candidates in November.

“It’s a really unfortunate situation with Dan Maes, but I don’t think it’ll suppress voter turnout,” Buck campaign manager John Swartout said. “The energy is too high. I’ve never seen a Republican base with such energy on the ground.”

Another point in the GOP’s favor: Federal races top the Colorado ballot, followed by state contests, which means that the first Republican name voters will see will be that of Mr. Buck, the current front-runner in his bid to oust Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet.

Republicans also are mounting strong challenges to three Democratic House incumbents, Rep. John Salazar in the 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Betsy Markey in the 4th, and Rep. Ed Perlmutter in the 7th.

Indeed, Mrs. Markey, who unseated Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave in the 2008 Democratic sweep, is considered so vulnerable that national Democrats are weighing whether to redirect her funding to more winnable races, according to an article Sunday in the New York Times.

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