DENVER—After suffering a beatdown in November, Colorado Republicans have some tough decisions to make, starting with whether to stick with their party leadership.
Colorado Republican Party chairman Ryan Call is facing a challenge in his bid for a second two-year term from Douglas County Republican Party chairman Mark Baisley.
The state central committee is scheduled to vote at its 9 a.m. meeting Saturday at Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village.
The contest comes at a time of high visibility for the state chair. With Democrats in charge of the legislature and the governor’s office, the party leader has become by default the voice of Colorado Republicans.
Former GOP chairman Dick Wadhams said a crucial part of the chairman’s job is “to publicly hold Democratic officeholders accountable for their actions, and I think that role is especially important when the Democrats are in control.”
Wadhams, who never shied away from calling out Democrats during his years as chairman, said the members of the central committee should consider the candidates’ willingness to use the bully pulpit.
“They cannot hold back for fear of not being liked by Democrats or the media,” said Wadhams. “I do think there’s some room for debate as to which candidate can fulfill that responsibility. I’m not saying Ryan isn’t that person, I’m just saying it’s a debate the party central committee has to engage in.”
It’s doubtful either candidate will be able to match Wadhams’ knack for blasting Democrats, but both Call and Baisley agree this is a pivotal moment for Colorado Republicans. Both have called for updating the party’s infrastructure in order to maintain a year-round presence, much as Colorado Democrats have done.
“Our party cannot begin campaigning six months before an election and expect success,” said Call in an email to supporters. “Our voter registration, coalition outreach, and voter persuasion efforts must be year-round, and we are now in a financial position to accomplish that goal.”
Baisley, who has served as chair of the Douglas County Republicans since 2010, says the party needs to show its top donors that they’re getting a better return on their investment.
“We need to do something quite different,” said Baisley. “We don’t need to match what the Democratic Party did, we need to exceed it.”
The race for chairman also comes as a referendum on Call’s two-year tenure. During that time, Call has won kudos for his fundraising prowess and disciplined management style. He spent countless hours on the stump for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign.
While the 2012 election was a rough one for Colorado Republicans—not only did Romney lose the state to President Obama, but the party lost its one-vote majority in the state House—analysts say it would be unfair to hold Call responsible for the outcome.
“Republicans massively lost the legislature, but I would have a hard time blaming that on Ryan Call,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.
Added Wadhams, “It’s not Ryan Call’s fault that Mitt Romney lost Colorado. Competitive states like Colorado are in many ways at the mercy of the national campaigns.”
Call has been endorsed by the Republican congressional delegation and should win the support of many elected officials, who comprise part of the central committee. The rest of the committee consists of county party officials and “bonus members” selected on the basis of voter turnout in their counties.
In an email to supporters in January, Call said he had garnered the backing of 217 of 300 central-committee members. Since then, however, the composition of the central committee has changed, with county Republicans selecting new leadership in early February. The addition of “bonus members” also expands the committee’s numbers.
“I know Call has most of the establishment behind him,” said Ciruli. “That doesn’t necessarily mean a lot. So did Romney.”
Call’s outspoken support for Romney may actually come back to haunt him in a state where Rick Santorum won the 2012 Republican caucus. Some of those who backed Santorum and Ron Paul in the primary race have grumbled that Call is too moderate for their liking.
An aerospace engineer and small-business owner, Baisley has run an energetic campaign, emphasizing his credentials as a “tech geek” and his success in getting out the vote in Douglas County. With the 6th congressional district race hanging in the balance, the state party set a record by turning out 97.3 percent of active registered Republicans in Highlands Ranch, giving Republican Rep. Mike Coffman his margin of victory.
Douglas County has evolved into a powerful Republican stronghold, and Baisley says he wants to replicate the county’s recipe for victory at the state level.
“Our biggest mistake over the last two years was not responding to our natural conservative coalitions,” said Baisley. “Our effort was centered on the Romney campaign on the state level without tailoring that for the state. The reason I’m in this race is that Douglas County did not march to that one-size-fits-all tune.”
The winner of the state chairman’s race will oversee the 2014 election, which Republicans view as an opportunity to make up ground lost to Democrats.