Recently, Colorado Republicans have had a hard time of it. News that a moderate former congressmen, Scott McInnis, won't be seeking the Republican nomination for Senate in 2008 - to replace Senator Allard, who is retiring - means things aren't about to get any easier for the elephants.
First, they saw Mr. Allard squeak by in both of his Senate races with 51% victories - hardly a resounding endorsement. Then, in 2004, they saw Democrat Ken Salazar beat Republican Pete Coors to take a previously Republican Senate seat, held by Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and they saw Mr. Salazar's brother pick up a formerly GOP House seat that same year. In 2006, they saw the governorship go to a Democrat, and another congressional district go blue.
By January of 2007, Colorado, a state that should be more red than blue - with its population having supported the Republican in the last three presidential elections and with only 22% of voters in the 2004 Senate race having described themselves as "liberal" - was left with just three Republican House seats - including Marilyn Musgrave's, which was held with just 46% in 2006 - and one Republican Senator, whose approval rating hovers in the 40% range.
The tastes of Colorado voters have been shifting, and not in a way that accommodates the state party that generated Congress's leading backers of a Constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions, and the House's chief anti-immigration rabble-rouser.
If ever there were a state party that needed to bring itself off of life support by changing its old, bad habits, it's the Colorado GOP. This was the rationale behind its recruitment of native son, and highly-regarded strategist, Dick Wadhams, for chairman earlier this month. And it seems to have been the rationale for the unabashedly conservative Rep. Tom Tancredo backing a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican for the nomination to replace Mr. Allard.
By most accounts, Colorado voters would be most drawn to supporting a candidate who fits the fiscally conservative, socially moderate profile. A CNN 2004 exit poll conducted in relation to the Salazar-Coors race showed that 33% of Colorado's voters are independents, and that 43% of Colorado voters describe themselves as moderate. Mr. Coors's loss to Mr. Salazar is widely ascribed to him having veered too far to the right on social issues.
Consequently, pundits following the 2008 Senate race were shocked to learn this week that the dictionary definition of a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican candidate, Mr. McInnis, was withdrawing his name from consideration for the nomination, despite signs of strong support from Mr. Wadhams and Mr. Tancredo.
Mr. McInnis served in Congress between 1993 and 2005 and, in that time, developed a record for being suitably tough on fiscal issues and suitably moderate on social issues. He earned respectable ratings during his last five years of service from Americans for Tax Reform (between 80% and 95% each year) and the National Taxpayers Union. He also happened to be a pro-choice Republican, but he was one still moderate enough to earn a 0% rating in 2003 from NARAL Pro-Choice America. He was also one of the Republicans who voted against Mr. Allard's and Ms. Musgrave's infamous Federal Marriage Amendment.
In sum, Mr. McInnis was the Colorado Republican Party's best shot at holding the line in 2008. However, he seems to have been forced out of the race by social conservatives who, in a state that is home to Evangelical leader James Dobson and his Focus on the Family, want a "traditional" Republican (i.e., one of them) to be their nominee.
Just before Mr. McInnis withdrew his name from consideration, the godfather of the Colorado Republican Party, former Senator Bill Armstrong commented to the Denver Post that he would not support Mr. McInnis and instead preferred the more socially conservative Bob Schaffer, another former Colorado congressman. Mr. Schaffer and Mr. McInnis have received similar ratings from fiscal groups, but Mr. Schaffer has an edge with so-called traditional Republicans in his co-sponsorship of the original Federal Marriage Amendment, and his pro-life stance. All this presumably leads to Mr. Armstrong's determination that Schaffer "is the most likely Republican nominee."
The most likely Republican nominee, perhaps, but the most likely successor to Mr. Allard? That's doubtful.
According to a 2006 Rasmussen poll, only 43% of Colorado voters consider abortion immoral. Given that in most states voters are more likely to take that view, and they still tend to oppose bans on the practice, it is logical to conclude that Colorado voters are not particularly disposed to the pro-life Mr. Schaffer.
In addition, a 2006 Denver Post poll showed that only 41% of Coloradoans oppose extending rights from which married couples benefit to same-sex couples (something that would effectively be banned by the Federal Marriage Amendment, which Mr. Schaffer supported). Therefore, on the social issues, Mr. McInnis would seem to be more in keeping with Coloradoans' values and perspectives than Mr. Schaffer.
Apparently, however, this does not concern certain Republican bigwigs who, if they had wanted to win in 2008, would have done their utmost to persuade Mr. McInnis to run. Instead, they've promoted a candidate whose name on the ballot could easily turn the Colorado Senate race from a tossup to a likely Democratic pickup.