After reading polls showing Joe Biden’s popularity at Jimmy Carter levels, Republicans are giddy with optimism about a potential resurgence in November. I’ve even heard some Colorado Republicans boast, “It doesn’t matter who we nominate.”
Correction: it definitely matters who we nominate. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t remember the election of 2010.
In Barack Obama’s second year in office, his approval numbers crashed due to massive government spending, a progressive push to nationalize health care, and the rise of the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party movement. By Election Day, Republicans were plus-11 on the generic congressional ballot.
On election night, Republicans picked up six U.S. Senate seats, including some of the most unlikely places, like Illinois (Obama’s home state) and Wisconsin (the first Republican elected in 24 years). In Congress, Republicans gained a staggering 63 seats – the largest shift by either party since 1948.
The Dan Maes debacle
But the Red Wave washed out here in Colorado – partly because Republicans made a catastrophically poor choice in the race for Governor by nominating Dan Maes, who could be described most charitably as a “newcomer.”
Maes – who had no experience in elected office and no notable success in business – somehow bamboozled delegates into making him the topline candidate by less than 0.5% over Congressman Scott McInnis.
As the Republican primary neared, Democrat millionaires created the “Colorado Freedom Fund” and used it to spend $500,000 trashing McInnis to Republican voters. Thanks to this “help” from Democrats, Maes squeaked past McInnis in the primary, 50.7% to 49.3%.
That was Maes’ highwater mark. In his entire campaign, he raised just $314,710.12 and bombed so badly that he won just 11% of the general election vote, finishing third behind then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (51%) and former Congressman Tom Tancredo (36%), who ran as nominee of the American Constitution Party.
That boondoggle went a long way toward helping Michael Bennet win his first full term in the U.S. Senate despite receiving just 48.1% of the vote over then-District Attorney Ken Buck (46.4%). Ironically, Bennet again failed to surpass 50% six years later when he ran for re-election.
Even here, the results included a silver lining as Republicans ousted two Democrats from Congress, Rep. John Salazar (CD3) and Rep. Betsy Markey (CD4), as well as defeating incumbent Secretary of State Bernie Buescher and Treasurer Cary Kennedy.
But in an election that should have vaulted Republicans back into control of the state legislature, the GOP clawed to control of the State House by just one vote (33-32) and held it for only two years. In the Senate, Republicans gained just one seat, remaining in the minority (20-15) for a fourth-consecutive election.
Nationally, Republicans missed a golden opportunity in two other U.S. Senate seats by nominating fringe candidates.
In Delaware, Republicans passed up incumbent Congressman (and former Governor) Mike Castle in favor of Christine O’Donnell, a two-time failed candidate who lost to Joe Biden by 30 points just two years earlier. O’Donnell lost to Democrat Chris Coons by 17 points after spending much of the general election campaign explaining comments about “dabbling in witchcraft” from a 1999 television appearance.
In Nevada’s crowded GOP primary, former State Rep. Sharron Angle, a manifestly uncharismatic candidate, was bewilderingly endorsed by Club for Growth, Sarah Palin and Phyllis Schlafly. Angle prevailed with 40% of the primary vote. Although she briefly polled ahead of Sen. Harry Reid, the Democrat majority leader, she soon fell behind and ultimately lost by six points, giving “Dirty Harry” six more years.
Elections are fundamentally about addition. Colorado Republicans comprised 26% of voters in 2020, compared to Democrats’ 29% and unaffiliated voters at 44%. The last Republican who actually won the unaffiliated vote was Attorney General Cynthia Coffman in 2014.
Fellow Republicans, to win in November we must nominate candidates who not only know how to “preach to the choir” but also know how to bring unaffiliated voters back inside the GOP tent. If you’re a delegate to this weekend’s state convention, please vote with November in mind.
Mark Hillman served as both Colorado Senate Majority Leader and State Treasurer. To read more, go to MarkHillman.com.
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