On Tuesday night, former congressman Bob Beauprez beat a slate of Republicans including, most notably, former presidential candidate Tom Tancredo. Mitt Romney and other hated/beloved GOP establishment types had endorsed Beauprez, who was clearly the most electable candidate available to face John Hickenlooper. More importantly, the state GOP did not want Tancredo’s tedious one-note campaign dragging down its entire ticket.
Still, this wasn’t — though you may hear differently — another Tea Party v. Old Guard match up. What was different in Colorado? Where it mattered, the establishment choice was as conservative on issues as any other candidate running. Actually, paleoconservative Tancredo’s designation as a “Tea Party” favorite by the media was more a matter of perception — or more probably lazy shorthand many journalists use to signify “crazy.” Because of his propensity for self-promotion, and the media’s propensity to blow out every uncompromising statement he makes, the support Tancredo enjoyed among Republicans in the state was always overestimated. Especially by him. For instance, in 2010, conservatives broke out into a three-way battle between Tancredo supporters (and he ran on the Constitution party’s ticket), the Tea Party (behind the deeply flawed Dan Maes), and the Colorado GOP establishment. That race had almost nothing to do with issues and everything to do with egos.
That said … though the media continues to treat Colorado as a Purple state, it’s Blue. Democrats have dominated politics there for almost a decade, winning the governorship twice, both Senate seats, and controlling the legislature for years – though, granted, often by a thin margin. It should also be noted that while Beauprez is clearly the more formidable gubernatorial candidate for the GOP — if only because the race won’t degenerate into an an ugly squabble over immigration alone — he lost to Bill Ritter by 17 points in 2006. And Bill Ritter was perhaps the least inspiring candidate I can remember in my eight years of covering Colorado politics.
So, in the end, perhaps the biggest winner in Colorado is Cory Gardner, the congressman running against Mark Udall for the Senate. Without the Tancredo drag on the ticket, Gardner will only have to deal with the standard array of war-on-women attacks that seemingly every Republican has to repel. In his 2010 race for the Senate, Ivy League educated Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, who is basically assured a trip to DC after winning the 4th Congressional District Republican primary this time around, was mercilessly and unfairly smeared as a misogynistic barbarian. But having seen Gardner rise through the Colorado legislature, I’d say he is a more gifted politician than any state-wide candidate the GOP has fielded since Bill Owens. Beating Mark Udall will still be challenging. Without Tancredo hanging around, a bit less so.