2009 County GOP Elections In Colorado Reveal Lingering Tensions Within Party
Recent county elections for GOP leadership--in **Denver, El Paso (h/t The Colorado Index), Douglas, and Larimer County--have revealed that in many ways, the Republicans continue to look both forward to 2010 AND back to the last few election cycles, simultaneously positing the conflicting strategies of the "big tent" approach (Denver) and ideological purity (El Paso). These counties represent four of the top nine counties (along with Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, and Jefferson, Weld) by population, and the rifts still in existence will continue to place a drag on the party's prospects as a whole.
It is clear from a couple of the posts above, along with insider information from those attending other county elections (Douglas County in particular), that there is still a drive to enforce an ideological litmus test on those running for party positions of power. Not an explicit standard to be sure, but intimations on the sidelines that working together to effect electoral victory will take more than simply jumping on the party bandwagon, and that in certain counties, particular positions on a variety of issues will be frowned upon by other party activists. How this will play out in contested primaries and the general election in 2010 remains to be seen, but it appears that the tensions between so-called "social" and "fiscal" conservatives will continue to exist.
Note to folks of all stripes in the GOP--the 2008 election cycle is over, as are the heated 2004 Senate and 2006 gubernatorial primaries. 2010, aside from the ever-present foundational fundraising and recruitment challenges, will see five high-profile state-wide elections--Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, U.S. Senate, and Governor. As the Denver County GOP election revealed (short bios of those elected), the focus should be on turnout, and maximizing that turnout in Democrat dominated counties especially. "Turning out the base" has run its course in the Colorado GOP, and as Denver GOP Treasurer Kelly Maher indicated, the party needs to "maximize" its presence everywhere. Reinvigorating Republican voters who have been ignored recently or who have chosen to sit on their hands for any of a variety of reasons will be a top priority. This maximization strategy will obviously extend to returning independent voters (a bloc that has exploded in registration since 2004) to the GOP and particularly those that lean to the center-right, who have either stopped voting for Republican candidates or have actually moved into the Democrats' column over the last decade. And with a probable continuation of the raft of Amendments that have become a biannual ballot challenge, conservatives need to work together on those issues that are not overtly partisan. Transparency is not a Republican or conservative issue, but a good government and accountability issue. Better aggregate turnout percentages are key, and continuing to abandon areas in Denver or elsewhere will not make the task any easier.
None of this will be possible, however, if the party reverts to infighting rather than looking to the base principles of free markets, individual liberty and responsibility, and limited government, and creating policy initiatives instead of becoming a "party of no." Even if the candidates themselves try to remain above the fray, rivalries among the party activists and operatives will slow the party's exit from the wilderness. We know that the key domestic issues will focus on the economy and job creation, and fighting the awful stimulus and pork packages and other Democrat-inspired legislation will continue to be hot-button topics nationally, and some of the same bread-and-butter legislation and rhetoric will be a priority here in Colorado. GOP primaries should be focused on these factors, and not on candidates trying to out-Reagan one another, or devolving into an exercise of "more-conservative-than-thou" mudslinging. The Democrats should provide enough electoral fodder on these issues to last several cycles, and will give the Republicans their clearest path to victory.
Republicans can and should continue the conversation about overall campaign strategies and highly targeted tactics in particular areas. Republicans and their donors also need to figure out how to make use of social networking and new media and better integrate the tools into their campaigns, but even potentially look to leapfrog the left (as success may breed stagnation for Democrats, and failure can only provide opportunity for Republicans). Success in 2010 will necessitate a concerted effort of allied individuals committed to the common principles outlined above. Candidates and elected officials are certainly fair game and should not be above scrutiny; however, applying preemptive preclusionary tactics to fellow party activists smacks of ideological narcissism and a failure to draw better conclusions from the electoral results of the last few years. Let's focus on the 95% common ground we share, and agree to disagree on the other 5%.
**EP was selected as precinct committeeperson and chair of Senate District 34 in Denver at the Denver County GOP election.