Updated: November 9, 2009 at 12:00 am
State Rep. Josh Penry, whose rising star had begun to attract attention in national GOP circles, is abandoning his campaign for the Republican nomination to challenge Gov. Bill Ritter in 2010.
Penry’s pullout all but secures the nomination for former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and prevents a costly and possibly damaging primary battle.
No official confirmation came from Penry. But a McInnis spokesman, Josh Green, said Penry met with McInnis Monday morning and announced his intention to drop out of the race.
“Josh clearly is one of our bright young stars, who has a lot to offer in the future,” said Dick Wadhams, the state GOP chairman.
At age 33, Penry is the Senate minority leader and has five years’ service in the state Legislature. McInnis, 56, has six terms in Congress under his belt.
“It’s the best thing for the party,” said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, the McInnis campaign’s local chairwoman. “Our party needs to really come together and realize that in order to take some of these major seats that we have to be talking with one voice.”
She said Penry’s decision “may be related to finances, too.”
McInnis reported $549,000 and Penry $412,000 in campaign donations for the quarter ending Sept. 30. A third GOP candidate, Dan Maes, trailed far behind.
“There is a significant difference between $550,000 and $400,000,” said state Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs and a McInnis supporter.
Ritter’s reported third quarter take was $453,000, less than half the combined McInnis-Penry total. The problem for the Republicans was that many of their campaign dollars were destined for the primary contest.
“If they were going to spend all of their money fighting against each other, then what was going to be left to fight Ritter?” Waller said.
Penry had more support among those legislative Republicans who had taken a stand, but McInnis was the favorite of the Pikes Peak region’s GOP delegation.
Some of McInnis’ local strength came from Penry’s vote this spring for a bill making it harder for the Army to acquire land to expand the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, a Fort Carson training ground northeast of Trinidad. Despite Pentagon denials, Many Colorado Springs Republicans have insisted that the new law will make the Defense Department think twice about its commitment to Fort Carson and other military bases in Colorado.
Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, was Penry’s most prominent local supporter.
“What makes me most sad,” Stephens said, “is that Josh is the new voice that this party needs and continues to need.”
“Old ways and old things don’t work,” she said. “You have to be able to address issues in a new way with a new style, and I thought Josh brought that to the table.”
Waller said Penry has “a long and fruitful future in Colorado politics,” adding that “having a knockdown, drag-out, bloody-your-nose sort of battle, and losing” was not the best way to ensure that future.
Contact the writer at 476-1654