- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 14, 2010

DENVER | A plagiarism scandal surrounding Colorado Republican gubernatorial front-runner Scott McInnis has thrown the race into turmoil, jeopardizing the state GOP’s chances in one of its most winnable races and prompting calls for him to drop out less than a month before the primary.

Mr. McInnis, a former congressman, stands accused of copying the work of others in portions of a 1994 column and a 1995 speech, and entire pages of an essay written in 2004 after a review of his written work by the Denver Post.

Mr. McInnis released a statement Tuesday attributing the plagiarized portions of the 2004 essay to the mistake of a researcher. At the same time, he downplayed the incident to a Denver television station, saying that voters “don’t really care about this issue.”

The Post, which ran banner headlines on its front page exposing the plagiarism accusations on Tuesday and Wednesday, called Wednesday for Mr. McInnis to walk away from the gubernatorial race. Polls have consistently shown the Republican with a five-percentage-point lead over the likely Democratic nominee, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

“The plagiarism and other issues have cumulatively so damaged McInnis’ credibility that we do not believe he can be an effective governor,” the Post said in a Wednesday editorial. “Even though McInnis acknowledged he made a mistake, he still spent part of Tuesday blaming a research assistant for the failure to credit the work.”

A host of prominent Colorado Democrats, including state party Chairman Pat Waak and House Speaker Terrance Carroll, also called on Mr. McInnis to withdraw his candidacy.

“The right thing for McInnis would be to withdraw from this race,” Mr. Carroll said. “Can Coloradans trust McInnis? I dont think so. How can he serve as a role model after having committed an offense we tell our kids they can never, ever commit in school or in their profession?”

Mr. McInnis’ only credible challenger for the party’s nomination is businessman Dan Maes, who badly trails the former congressman both in support and fundraising. Mr. Maes, however, did garner more delegate votes than Mr. McInnis at the state party convention and earned the top line on the Aug. 10 primary ballot.

State Republicans had high hopes for picking up the governor’s seat this year because of the party’s rising national popularity and the low favorability ratings for Gov. Bill Ritter Jr., a Democrat who is not seeking re-election.

Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said it was still too early to judge whether the plagiarism scandal would doom Mr. McInnis’ chances.

“The reason it’s not necessarily a death knell is because Scott is ignoring it for the most part,” said Mr. Ciruli. “He’s pushing forward and hoping he wins the primary, and then he can say, ‘See, the voters don’t care about this.’ “

The problem for Colorado Republicans is that a lingering scandal could hurt their chances in other winnable races. After years of losing ground to Democrats, Republicans have a realistic shot of taking back the Statehouse, winning the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Michael Bennet, and picking up a congressional seat.

“A bad race can be distracting and cast a pall over the whole party,” Mr. Ciruli said.

Mr. McInnis’ candidacy was a gamble from the start. He had come under criticism in previous years for other lapses in judgment, including a decision in his final term in Congress to pay his wife $37,000 to act as his campaign manager even though he had decided not to seek re-election.

Mr. McInnis took a contrite tone in his Tuesday statement, saying that even though blame for the plagiarism lay with researcher Rolly Fischer, a water researcher, “I should have been more vigilant in my review of research material Rolly submitted.”

“It’s unacceptable, it’s inexcusable, but it was also unintentional,” Mr. McInnis said.

After retiring from Congress, Mr. McInnis was paid $300,000 to write essays on water policy by the Hasan Family Foundation. The Post review of his work found that at least four pages of his 2004 work were lifted from a 1984 essay by Gregory J. Hobbs, now a Colorado Supreme Court justice.

Mr. McInnis previously wrote a column for the Rocky Mountain News that included a sentence that was nearly identical to one in a 1994 opinion piece by Richard V. Allen and Daryl M. Plunk for The Washington Post.

Mr. McInnis told KUSA-TV in Denver that the blame could be attributed to “faulty research.”

“This is a nonissue if it’s not a political year,” he told the NBC-TV affiliate. “Voters don’t really care about this issue. They care about jobs, getting back to work.”

Mr. McInnis became the consensus choice for state Republican leaders after he signed the Contract With Colorado, a conservative document designed to assuage concerns about his political views. After he signed it, Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry agreed to drop out of the primary race, and has since headed Republican Jane Norton’s Senate campaign.

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