Land of Enchantment for the GOP in 2012

Strong Brew of Tea in Colorado

Colorado Springs, Colo.—More than 700 activists swarmed the beautiful Broadmoor Hotel here for the Leadership Program of the Rockies (LPR), an annual training session for candidates and campaigners very popular with conservatives. Several times during the three-day conference, organizers pointed out that not only was this the largest-ever LPR, but also that at least one-third of the participants were political newcomers who had became politically active through the Tea Party movement.

“There’s no question about it—the Tea Party movement is a major presence at the LPR this year,” said conservative former Rep. (1996-2002) and GOP U.S. Senate nominee Bob Schaffer, who has overseen the much-praised political training session since 2007.

Many of the Tea Partiers had worked in the nearly successful Senate campaign last year of Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck. Fueled in large part by eager volunteers from the scores of disparate Tea Party chapters throughout the Centennial State, Buck won the Republican nomination over a more moderate “establishment” Republican and then lost a fall race squeaker to incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

Lesley Hollywood—that’s her real name—is director of the Northern Denver Tea Party. She helped mobilize support among fellow Tea Partiers for Buck in the early part of his campaign. Hollywood, in a rather unusual analysis, believes Buck lost because he backed away from his Tea Party base in the fall and relied too much on the regular Republican organization.

That said, LPR participant Hollywood fully intends to be active in Republican Party affairs and plans to bring the 1,000-plus activists in her Tea Party group into the party and its campaigns.
Dr. Joel Champion, who was recently elected Republican chairman of Boulder County, is proud of his ties to the Tea Partiers. Champion spoke of his efforts to give recognition to various Tea Party groups in his county, but, he said, “State party rules make it a bit difficult to give recognition to groups outside the party. We’ve got to change this.”

Others were like Molly Vogt of the Denver-9-12 organization, who freely volunteered that this was her first-ever political event and that she was planning to be “a party activist.”

Although Democrats won the governor and Senate races, Republicans won three other statewide offices and a majority in the state house of representatives and elected two new U.S. House members.

“And in all those winning races, you saw Tea Party members at the campaign headquarters and working hard,” outgoing State GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams said. “The Tea Party movement has been an important part of our party organization and will be in the future.”

Rare words of caution about the influx of Tea partiers into the Republican Party came from venerable radio talk show host Mike Rosen of 850 KOA in Denver. Rosen, an airwave fixture in the Rockies for decades, told HUMAN EVENTS during the LPR banquet Friday evening: “It’s good [the Tea Partiers] are learning campaign techniques. However, they must also learn that not every candidate is going to be with them 100% of the time, but that doesn’t mean they should walk away from that candidate.”

Land of Enchantment (For Republicans) in 2012

Less than 24 hours after Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) announ ced he would not seek reelection two weeks ago, signs were strong that former New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson would emerge as the favorite for both the Republican nomination and a pick-up of Bingaman’s seat in 2012.

“I spoke to Heather on Friday night and she sure sounded like a candidate,” former state GOP Chairman Ed Lujan told me the morning after Bingaman’s announcement, “and, while she may not be as conservative as many HUMAN EVENTS readers would like, she’s pretty well-situated now.”

Lujan was referring to the’08 primary battle Wilson went through in an attempt to succeed her one-time boss and mentor, Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, following Domenici’s retirement that year. Wilson and fellow Rep. Steve Pearce relinquished their House seats to wage a hard-fought battle for the Republican Senate nomination. In large part because Wilson (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 78%) took stands on abortion and other issues that offended social conservatives, state and national conservative groups rallied around Pearce (lifetime ACU rating: 94%). (He narrowly won the primary, but lost the Senate race in November to Democrat Tom Udall. Last fall, Pearce recaptured his former House seat).

As for Wilson, the U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and onetime National Security Council staffer under George H.W. Bush has kept a high profile in GOP politics in the Land of Enchantment. She formed a political action committee to elect more Republican state representatives, helped fellow GOPer R.J. Berry win election as mayor of Albuquerque, and, most recently, headed the transition team for Republican Susana Martinez, who was elected governor of the New Mexico last fall.

“And Berry and Martinez have been doing good work in their offices and we are now within three seats of taking the state house of representatives,” Lujan told us. “So Republicans have the fresh faces and the political momentum. That will help Heather or whoever our [Senate] nominee is next year.”

Among Democrats, the most -mentioned possible Senate candidates are the state’s two Democratic U.S. Representatives, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan. Whether either would relinquish his House seat after only two terms each is thought very questionable. Also mentioned is former Lt. Gov. Diane Daniels Denish, who lost the gubernatorial contest to Martinez last November. Denish’s father, former state Rep. Jack Daniels, was the Democratic Senate nominee in 1972.

Any discussion of New Mexico Democratic politics would not be complete without a mention of former Gov. Bill Richardson, who has been on the political scene since 1982 as congressman, UN ambassador and Cabinet member. But after a second term marked by ethics probes and fiscal tumult, Richardson may have run out of political steam. As one wag put it, “He would probably lose to Mubarak.”

GOP Chestnuts in Nutmeg State

Although Connecticut Republicans in November lost the race for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd and a tight, much-disputed contest for governor, they nonetheless managed to gain seats in both the state house of representatives and senate.

Last week, in special elections held to fill vacancies, the GOP increased its strength in both houses of the Nutmeg State legislature. In both races, conservative Republicans ran hard against Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy’s proposal to raise taxes by $1.51 billion to deal with the state’s $3.5 billion deficit.

In a stunning upset, conservative Republican Len Suzio, a Meriden businessman, won a state senate seat that had been in Democratic hands for 36 years. Vowing to “drain the swamp in Hartford,” the 63-year-old Suzio easily defeated Democrat and Meriden Board of Education member Thomas Bruenn. Previously, Suzio had lost three races to Democratic State Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, who was forced to resign amid charges of criminal behavior for double-billing state government and his political action committee.

In the 101st State House District, where Democratic State Rep. Deb Heinrich had resigned to join Gov. Malloy’s administration, Madison Selectman Noreen Kokoruda handily put her district in the Republican column. Kokoruda defeated Democrat Joan Walker, a member of Madison’s Economic Development Commission.

The victories of Suzio and Kokoruda mean that the line-up in the state Senate is now 22 Democrats to 14 Republicans and tin the state house, 99 Democrats to 52 Republicans. The wins were also a boost to State Republican Chairman Chris Healy, who has signaled he will seek another term later this year.