Tea Party Could Cost Colorado GOP a Presidential Election in 2012

Their intransigence turns off the independent voters who are key to winning Colorado.


LAKEWOOD, COLO.--It's entirely possible that hell has just frozen over. I agree with outgoing Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams, once described as "Karl Rove 2.0." In his straight-no-chaser comments after exiting the state GOP chairman's race, Wadhams told Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post, "I'm tired of the nuts who have no grasp of what the state party's role is."

He's right. The Tea Party's ideological rigidity cost Colorado Republicans a Senate and a gubernatorial seat in 2010 and in all likelihood will cost them a presidential election in 2012. Their intransigence means Colorado Republicans can't get a moderate candidate to win in the primary, and can't get a conservative to win in the general. And it turns off the independent voters who are key to winning Colorado--the electorate is evenly split, one third Democrats, one third Republicans, and one third unaffiliated. [See the 10 best cities to find a job.]

The Tea Party cost Republicans a Senate seat in 2010 by nominating Ken Buck over Jane Norton. Buck's extremist views on reproductive rights in a prochoice state ultimately cost him the votes of the unaffiliated women voters in suburban Denver that put Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet over the top. And the Tea Party's choice for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Dan Maes, came within a single point--he garnered only 11 percent of the vote--of relegating the Republicans to minor party status. [ See editorial cartoons about the Tea party.]

Meanwhile, Democrats have put forth a string of affable centrists, from my former boss Gov. Bill Ritter to Sens. Mark Udall and Bennet to our new governor, John Hickenlooper. Udall is so determinedly centrist he instigated the bipartisan seating at this year's State of the Union, a practice that produced some of the most oddball pairings since Farmer Ted drove off with Jake Ryan's cheerleader girlfriend in Sixteen Candles.

Traditional Colorado centrism was borne out by a survey of Colorado voters by Public Policy Polling released this week. It showed President Obama with a comfortable lead on all Republican candidates, and a 19 point gap with Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. (And in an odd coincidence, Palin dropped out of a planned Colorado speaking engagement after suspiciously poor ticket sales.) [ See editorial cartoons on Sarah Palin.]

According to the PPP survey:

There's a six point difference between how a generic Republican who's a 'conservative endorsed by the Tea Party' and how a generic 'moderate Republican' do when pitted against Barack Obama. Obama leads the moderate by six points but against the conservative Tea Partier he has a 12 point advantage. The difference is particularly dramatic with independents- a 10 point lead for Obama against the moderate but a 24 point advantage against the conservative. What those numbers show is that a lot of independents in the state are open to voting Republican next year. But they're not going to if there's an ultra conservative nominee.

So Dick Wadhams isn't the only one who's tired of the nuts. Colorado voters are, too.