(Denver Post, Apr. 6) Sports mementos line the Denver Athletic Club, old photos recalling bygone glories. It was a good setting for the Republican gathering of eagles on March 27, when presidential nominee John McCain swept into town with former rival Mitt Romney at his side. Many of us at the fundraiser had bygone glories on our mind. We were gauging not only the prospects for a White House victory in 2008, but also the personnel for a Colorado comeback by the GOP in 2010 after years in the wilderness. What I saw was a roomful of intriguing possibilities. At a press conference earlier, US Sen. Wayne Allard and the candidate running to succeed him, former Rep. Bob Schaffer, stood flanking McCain. Hopes for electing both are buoyed by Schaffer’s resilience in the polls against Democrat Mark Udall and by the Obama-Clinton bloodbath to McCain’s benefit.
Such a double win could build Republican momentum for 2010, when all state offices are up. Should my party lose one or both races, on the other hand, dominance by Democrats in the state and in Washington might whet voters’ appetite for divided government next time. Either way, we’ll have a shot at denying reelection to Gov. Bill Ritter and US Sen. Ken Salazar.
But who, the athletic club crowd wondered, might be our starting team for these contests? Take the governor’s race first. Ritter has shown weak leadership, accomplished little, and alienated business with his labor moves. He can be had. Allard, former Sen. Hank Brown, former Rep. Scott McInnis, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, businessman Pete Coors, or state Senate stars like Mark Hillman and Josh Penry could all run.
Challenging Salazar may be tougher, but his chameleon voting record spells vulnerability. Former Gov. Bill Owens, his 65% popularity intact and marital troubles behind him, might grab the brass ring this time after passing in 2004. Done with Congress, battle-tested from the presidential primaries, Tom Tancredo admits a Senate run in ’10 appeals to him. Former Rep. Bob Beauprez may have the itch as well.
For wild cards in either race, think about Attorney General John Suthers, assistant Senate leader Nancy Spence, radio host Dan Caplis, Colorado Springs kingmaker Steve Schuck, Bruce Benson after a couple of years running CU, education reformers Alex Cranberg and Ed McVaney, or restaurateur John Elway. (Yes, No. 7 does fantasize about recreating the Drive with voters.)
Now consider the GOP depth chart for down-ballot contests. Democratic Reps. John Salazar out west and Ed Perlmutter in the suburbs aren’t endangered this year but could be in 2010. Likewise Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, and Ritter’s potential appointee at Secretary of State – if Mike Coffman succeeds Tancredo. Who might take them on?
For Congress, think Penry or state Rep. Ellen Roberts against Salazar, district attorney Carol Chambers (if she’d move a few miles north) or state Rep. Rob Witwer against Perlmutter. Statewide candidates might include the House minority leader, bulldog Mike May, and some of his fellow legislators such as Reps. Cory Gardner, David Balmer, and Amy Stephens, or Sens. Shawn Mitchell and Mike Kopp.
Republican bench strength is great overall. Three of the four vying for 6th congressional – Coffman, Sens. Ted Harvey and Steve Ward, and entrepreneur Wil Armstrong – will figure in future elections somewhere. The 5th congressional insurgents, Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn, likely losers against Rep. Doug Lamborn this summer, might resurface later. Even Mark Holtzman and Rick O’Donnell, who left Colorado after their 2006 defeats, could dramatically return like Foote and Forsberg.
Elephant Republicans taking the hustings against donkey Democrats: there’s a timeless beauty to it, like National League meeting American League on the diamond. After 2008 comes the 2009 off-season, then 2010 and a whole new ballgame. Hope springs eternal.