Dan Maes backers portray the Republican gubernatorial primary as a battle for the soul of the GOP, with new hard-line conservatism vying with the older varieties they blame for steering the party off course.
Scott McInnis backers say it’s a fight between idealism and realism – experience pitted against zeal.
Republican voters will choose between McInnis and Maes on Aug. 10, with the winner facing Denver mayor John Hickenlooper this fall.
The 48-year-old Maes is a political newcomer who says he’ll apply his business acumen to the governor’s office. He’s pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax and says he can streamline government. He’s gained loyalty from the state’s Tea Party faithful, but has been shunned by the state’s major players in the GOP.
What was a low-profile, poorly financed campaign caught fire in May when Maes took the most delegates at the GOP state assembly, which puts his name first on the primary ballot.
“I believe he has the most conservative filter from which he looks at every issue,” said state Sen. Dave Schultheis of Colorado Springs, a Republican lawmaker who gave Maes his most prominent endorsement.
McInnis, 57, has been on Colorado’s political scene for nearly three decades, including five terms in the state House and a dozen years in Congress. He’s called for rolling back taxes, getting tough on illegal immigration and carving the state’s $7 billion general fund.
He’s been the GOP’s frontrunner in the governor’s race for nearly a year, after his main challenger, state Sen. Josh Penry, dropped out. McInnis leads Maes in fundraising and in polls but still struggles to win over the Tea Party crowd.
“There is value in experience,” said Colorado Springs state Rep. Amy Stephens, who is backing McInnis.
On the campaign trail, Maes has portrayed himself as the outsider who can bring business back to Colorado while radically reforming government.
A one-time police officer, Maes sold his credit rating business before hitting the campaign trail.
He’s attacked schools, saying he would stop “throwing good money after bad” in a public education system he says is struggling.
On water issues, Maes says Colorado isn’t doing enough to keep snowmelt contained behind dams. He’s suspicious of the green energy economy, and wants more drilling and nuclear power.
“In the last 15 months I have put 70,000 miles plus on three cars getting around this state,” Maes told a crowd last month. “I don’t want to be a politician, I want to be a public servant. I want to bring my executive experience to the governor’s office, folks.”
Maes is mostly being ignored by his Republican opponent, who instead is taking aim at Democrats. He says they fumbled opportunities to ease the state’s economic crisis by taxing businesses rather than shrinking government.
He says he would repeal laws enacted earlier this year that targeted businesses with an extension of the state’s sales tax.
He’s appealed to conservatives by calling for Arizona-style immigration laws in Colorado and has shifted from the pro-choice camp to pro-life, a move that appeals to abortion opponents.
McInnis has also spent a lot of time talking about oil and gas. He’s accused Democrats of driving drillers out of Colorado by imposing new regulations, which he says must be eased.
McInnis, a native of Glenwood Springs and a former cop, starts nearly every stump speech by setting up the race as a contest between the Denver Metro area and the rest of Colorado.
“Help is on the way,” he told a crowd in Colorado Springs last month.
The winning Republican, though, will face a tough opponent in the general election.
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper jumped into the race in January after incumbent Gov. Bill Ritter said he wouldn’t run again. Hickenlooper faces no primary opposition.
Hickenlooper, best known for starting a string of brew pubs along the Front Range, appears to have a hammerlock on votes in Denver and is beginning to target voters far from the capital.
MEET THE CANDIDATES
THE MAN: Dan Maes is a 48-year-old businessman from Evergreen with no political experience.
THE MONEY: Raised $119,000 through June 1 and had $8,000 left in the bank.
THE PITCH: Maes says he’s the true conservative and would turn around the state by treating government like a failing business.
THE MAN: Scott McInnis is a 57-year-old lawyer from Grand Junction. He served in the state House, then Congress for 12 years.
THE MONEY: Raised $1.8 million through June 1 and had $583,000 left in the bank.
THE PITCH: McInnis wants to create jobs by encouraging oil and gas drilling while shaving business taxes. Also pledges to be tough on crime.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
Primary elections are partisan affairs and open only to voters who have registered with the party in question.
REGISTER: Voters must be registered by July 12. To sign up, go to the Secretary of State’s voter Web site govotecolorado.com.
PICK YOUR PARTY: Voters in Colorado can choose a political party or register as unaffiliated. Those unaffiliated voters can’t vote in primaries. If you’ve already registered to vote, you can change or establish a party affiliation at govotecolorado.com. You can also pick your party at the polls on election day, Aug. 10.
VOTE EARLY: Mail ballots start going out July 19 to voters who requested them. Early voting at specified polling locations starts July 31. For information on those sites in El Paso County visit car.elpasoco.com/Election on the Internet.
ELECTION DAY: Polls in El Paso County will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 10. For polling place information, visit car.elpasoco.com/Election on the Internet.