Who will be Colorado's Palin?

(Denver Post, May 30) An Alaska mayor shocks the governor in a primary, then humbles an ex-governor in the general election, then electrifies the nation as John McCain’s running mate. A legislator from the laughing-stock Massachusetts Republicans upsets the attorney general to capture a perennially Democratic Senate seat. A lowly Pennsylvania congressman ignores the president’s support for a party-switching senator and retires him in a primary, Obama endorsement and all. You know their names. In ousting Arlen Specter, Joe Sestak (corrupt job offer notwithstanding) followed a pattern set by Scott Brown and Sarah Palin. Voters in both parties are turning to conviction candidates and giving resume’ candidates the boot. Palin’s rollicking speech at DU last weekend, hours after the state Republican convention, got me wondering whether the same pattern fits Colorado. Laughing that it was fun to do politics at an ice rink, the Wasilla hockey mom skated in to forecheck the Messiah himself. Her deft indictment of Mr. Obama’s policies delighted the crowd of several thousand, about half of them Tea Partiers by a show of hands. With her peroration on Reagan as a model of the “lifeguard leadership” America needs, you could hear Sarah asking herself: “Should I run in 2012?”

Time will tell. Right now there is 2010 to deal with, and on a Saturday that had seen conventional wisdom toppled among both Democrats and Republicans, something else you could hear was our state’s previously favored hopefuls for senator and governor frantically recalculating their chances.

Jane Norton and Ken Buck, Senate rivals in the August GOP primary, both attended the Palin event. Once the underdog, he was riding a 77% delegate majority and positive media buzz. She was coming off several days of rough press and party grumbling over her decision to bypass the convention and file petitions.

Listening in on their thoughts that night would have been fascinating. Though still formidable in likability, endorsements, and funding, the former lieutenant governor now clearly has a race on her hands. For all that Norton was recently lauded by Gov. Palin as a “pink elephant,” a conservative woman to watch, the pit bull of the hour seems to be Buck.

The same dramatic reversal of fortune, like something out of the movies, has befallen Michael Bennet and Andrew Romanoff, Senate rivals on the Democratic side. Romanoff, feisty and buoyant, radiates conviction. Bennet has the resume’, but he plods. The incumbent’s war chest and White House backing may prove no more decisive for him than they were for poor Arlen Specter.

It was in the race for governor, though, that May 22 invited the craziest speculation on who might become Colorado’s Sarah Palin. Evergreen businessman Dan Maes, authentic and fearless but politically unknown, announced in early 2009 against Gov. Bill Ritter. Fat chance. Like most Republicans, I shrugged and awaited the serious contenders.

First came former congressman Scott McInnis, then state Sen. Josh Penry, then (very briefly) former presidential candidate Tom Tancredo. But suddenly last November, Penry and Tancredo were out. This January, Ritter too was out. And now as June begins, McInnis sits SECOND on the ballot behind, of all people, Dan Maes.

Is it another case of conviction trumping resume’? If latecomer Joe Gschwendtner gains traction, does a three-way primary (like Palin’s in 2006) help Maes? Could Dauntless Dan, if nominated by the GOP, beat the media’s darling, John Hickenlooper? There is precedent. Back in 1962, the untried John Love took out Democrat Gov. Steve McNichols.

Things are at a boil, and as Samuel Adams of Boston Tea Party fame observed, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.” Americans and Coloradans, fired up about over-government, have made this a year of surprises already. My hunch is we haven’t seen anything yet.