This morning I had the opportunity to follow up on this week’s Colorado political bombshell with the man at the center of the storm: state senate minority leader Josh Penry, of whom word leaked Monday that he had decided to withdraw from the Republican primary campaign for governor.
As a personal supporter of Penry’s candidacy and seeing evidence of his tremendous support among Colorado’s grassroots Republicans, I was greatly shocked and disappointed. In fact, it’s safe to say I’m still reeling from the revelation. Anyway, without further ado, here’s a quick recap of my interview this morning (please note that the following is somewhat excerpted and a close paraphrase rather than a direct quote):
1. What happened in the last week or 10 days that changed the dynamics of the race and led you to this decision?
– The New Jersey and Virginia tidal wave really crystallized for me the opportunity for the Republican Party in 2010. In our own race, we had a gap to close in name ID and financial disadvantage. As a result, my family and close friends and I decided it wasn’t the best use of resources to engage in a war of attrition with Scott McInnis. I didn’t make the decision lightly. I thought we could leverage the most good will from this situation by stepping back.
My follow-up comment: I do not doubt that the election results from last week played a role in Penry’s decision. But if there’s more to this story about what changed in recent days, and I believe there is, it will be very hard to discover. We may never know for sure.
2. Many in the base were disappointed by the announcement, and see it as a triumph of big money in politics over the grassroots. What do you say to the conservative grassroots in Colorado to lift their spirits and get them back in the game?
– I’m still disappointed myself about this decision. But it came down to the question of do I squander resources and engage in this war of attrition. To the governor’s race in particular, what I’m doing is engaging Scott and encouraging him in the strongest possible terms to run on a conservative reform agenda. He needs to get beyond the generalities. I know he is reaching out to legislators, and he is hearing the same thing from some of them.
My follow-up comment: I have a high threshold for the evidence necessary to see that Scott McInnis will run as a competent fiscally conservative reformer on specific policy issues. My maternal grandmother’s Missouri roots (“Show Me”) will be running strong. I want to see it. My support will have to be earned.
3. Understanding the strength of your belief in having a real strong fiscal reformer in the governor’s office, as you faced the calculus for this decision, why did you not wait to get assurances from McInnis first before dropping out?
– The conversation [with McInnis] is not finished, and we haven’t got all the details yet. I’ve received nice general assurances, but we’re still going to talk policy. I want to help shape his agenda. This conversation will go on for a couple days. The news did not break according to my timetable.
My follow-up comment: This is what leads me to believe something else must have been at play. The timing of the release strains the tensions further between McInnis and Penry, because it could be seen as a subversive effort by someone to weaken Penry’s leverage in trying to engage McInnis. Hence my skepticism of our new frontrunner.
4. You haven’t issued an endorsement yet. A lot of Penry supporters like myself are seriously considering backing Dan Maes. Have you talked at all to Dan in this process?
– I called Dan and haven’t heard back from him yet. Thomas Jefferson once said the first job of a statesman is to win an election. Dan is a fine guy and he has acquitted himself particularly well in this race, but he can’t raise $10,000 and assert himself as a credible candidate for governor. Dan’s problem and his challenge is does he have the horsepower to win it. I didn’t make this decision lightly. Who the next governor of Colorado is matters. My advice to the base out there: It’s only November, take a deep breath. Work toward pushing the stronger candidates on policy.
My follow-up comment: While my skepticism with McInnis is based in many other areas, I also still need to see Dan Maes show more fundraising prowess, to make his best case as the one to beat Bill Ritter. That means if you want a conservative reformer and credible outsider with business leadership experience to represent the Republican Party, the time is between now and the end of the year to come forward with whatever contribution you can give. Nothing else will send so strong a statement. Otherwise, you may have to holster your guns.
5. Rumors are out there that Tom Tancredo is planning to enter the race. Do you have any comment on him possibly getting in?
– Tom was a supporter of mine. I’m supposed to be meeting with him today. Tom is a good guy. The posture I encourage people to get into is rather than getting out & encouraging a primary is to engage McInnis and focus our resources on the breadth of races we have, to generate resources to take on the down-ticket races. I hope the frustration and disappointment over what I’ve done doesn’t lead people to give up. We need a whole new generation to rise up.
[State treasurer] Cary Kennedy is like Ken Salazar in 1997. If we don’t beat her now, we’ll have to figure out how to run against her for Governor in a few years. Those fights down-ticket for me are really important.
My follow-up comment: While I’m now once again up in the air about the governor’s races, I agree that we need to find good electable conservative candidates down ticket and show our support. Take a long-term view in all these decisions.
6. What sort of role do you expect to play in helping out these down-ticket races?
– That’s still being worked out, but if I were a Democrat in a swing seat, I’d be worried about the decision I made to get out of the race. We’re going to have lots of resources, strong candidates, and a strong message. We’re going to attack those races with a strong determination. The vast left wing conspiracy victories of 2004, 2006 and 2008 will be matched. There will be more about this coming out in the weeks ahead. Scott and I will be working together to raise money for these other races. It’s going to result in a big dividend.
My follow-up comment: Penry exhibited a lot of confidence in this last response. I have no doubt he will work hard to help see it through. There’s almost a full year between now and Election Day 2010. One question: How will the morale of the base hold up?
Stay tuned, and as always, chime in on our survey of Colorado’s political temperature.