An El Paso County solution to the Colorado GOP’s problems

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Ours is the most conservative city in Colorado, and one of the half-dozen most conservative cities in America. When Republicans win, whether by taking control of the legislature, occupying the governor’s mansion, or winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, we help put them there. A generic Republican candidate can expect at least a 65-35 margin in El Paso County, which often offsets similar Democratic margins in Denver and Boulder.

But that arithmetic fails when the GOP nominates flawed candidates who can’t survive the withering heat of a statewide campaign. In the last 35 years, only one Republican has occupied the governor’s office. In the same period, six Democrats, three Republicans and one party-switcher (Ben Nighthorse Campbell) have been elected to the U.S. Senate to represent Colorado.

Yet in eight out of 10 presidential elections since 1972, Colorado has delivered its electoral votes to the Republican candidate. And those figures actually understate Republican dominance, since Ross Perot’s third-party run in 1992 siphoned off enough conservative votes to enable Bill Clinton to win the state with 44 percent of the votes cast.

So what’s going on here?

The sad and simple truth is that you can’t win a Republican primary without the support of uber-conservative El Paso County voters, who usually favor ideological purity over electability.

This year, the Colorado GOP’s “Black November” brought a liberal Denver Mayor and a liberal Boulder resident to the governor’s mansion and the U.S. Senate. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet ran great campaigns, but they ought to give Colorado Springs Republican primary voters a big, fat wet kiss.

Absent Ken Buck’s primary margin in El Paso County, Jane Norton would have been the nominee. Even at the time, it was clear that she would have cruised to victory over Bennet. Yet our local GOPsters took a risk with Ken Buck, who seemed the more conservative of the two.

Similarly, the wildly unqualified Dan Maes would never have been on the primary ballot without Colorado Springs. We put him there, and we chose him when Scott McInnis self-destructed. Had McInnis won the primary, he might have withdrawn gracefully, making room for a viable replacement such as Hank Brown or Bruce Benson.

As Pogo Possum once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Consider Attorney General John Suthers. The incumbent Attorney General was dismissively characterized in 2009 by lefty website Colorado Pols as being “as charismatic as a piece of drywall.” Maybe so, but he won his race.

The former El Paso County D.A. is the kind of conservative who appeals to Colorado voters — competent, unthreatening, smart and reasonable. He’s had an exceptionally distinguished career in law and in public service. Like Hank Brown, John Hickenlooper, and Michael Bennet, he has a wide range of skills that would qualify him to head almost any enterprise, public or private.

That hasn’t often been the case with statewide Republican candidates. While Dems nominate talented smarties, Republicans are strangely fond of unqualified dumbos.

Aren’t there any smart Republicans? Well, yes, in fact there are lots of them. But few are interested in putting themselves through the fire of a Colorado Springs-controlled Republican primary.

To succeed, candidates must swear fealty to the beliefs that define the radical right.

Global warming/evolution? Crackpot theories!

Abortion? Never (and that includes birth control!).

Sarah Palin? Our next president!

President Obama? A Kenyan-born Muslim, sworn to the destruction of the American Republic!

Separation of church and state? A lib’rul myth!

Sensible (and therefore electable) candidates have to engage in an elaborate charade to convince suspicious El Paso County Republicans that you’re really a member of the tribe. Believe me, our elephants have sensitive snouts — they can detect a RINO a mile away. They torpedoed Jane Norton, and they’re ready take down any contemptibly moderate candidate who might actually win — with a few surprising exceptions.

As John Suthers, Dan May, Sallie Clark, Jim Bensberg, Bob Gardner and a dozen other present and past local elected officials prove, El Paso County Republicans are fine with independent thinkers — as long as they’re homies, and solid conservatives.

Problem solved! Let’s forget strange furriners like Maes and Buck, and go with our own gals and guys. Gov. Gardner, Sens. Bensberg and Clark, our own home-grown, genuine Colorado conservatives!

On second thought, maybe that’s not the best slogan.

Hazlehurst can be reached at john.hazlehurst@csbj.com or 719-227-5861. Watch him at 7:45 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday on Channel 3, Fox Morning News.