After Secretary of State Scott Gessler avoided the Denver Post's debate among Republican candidates for governor Tuesday, his campaign insulted the event and other GOP candidates. As quoted in a Gazette news story, Gessler campaign manager Rory McShane said the candidate might participate in future events that involve "legitimate candidates." It's an unwise slight, given the mess that would surely follow Gessler's nomination.
Among four who debated, three can easily be viewed as more legitimate than Gessler.
Veteran Sen. Greg Brophy, a "Prius-driving, bicycle-riding farmer," joined former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp and Adams County Republican Chairman Steve House for a lively discussion that touched on everything from capital punishment to same-sex civil unions to an array of economic issues.
Brophy, like Kopp, offers a distinguished history of public service in the Legislature. Brophy, House and Kopp all have experience in private-sector business and speak impressively with detailed knowledge of key issues. Aside from lacking name recognition, it's an extraordinary field. The Gazette has met with and scrutinized all three. Each could pose a legitimate challenge to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is hurt by advocating a billion-dollar tax hike, his party's support of the Affordable Care Act and a notorious legislative session that inspired recalls of three Democratic senators. Brophy, House or Kopp would necessitate campaign discussions about issues, rather than personalities.
A Gessler campaign, by contrast, would resemble the disastrous Dan Maes run of 2010. It was a circus of scandal ads questioning the candidate's character and background. When it finally ended, Maes garnered 11.2 percent of the vote.
In a race against Gessler, Democrats will wisely buy commercial time to relentlessly promote a simple message found on Gessler's Wikipedia entry and various websites:
"An investigation and hearing conducted by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission resulted in a unanimous finding that Gessler violated the state discretionary fund statute by spending government money on a political event."
The commercials will tell voters how the bipartisan commission found Gessler "breached the public trust for private gain."
After instilling the "private gain" message, which will display next to some unfortunately awkward picture of Gessler, other commercials will pick up where the story left off. They will remind viewers that Gessler spent more than $120,000 in taxpayer dollars to defend himself against misuse of taxpayer funds "for private gain." Another ad will explain how the ethics commission found not one but two ethics violations. Fair or not, Democrats could not hope for an easier opponent to marginalize with gross exaggerations of poor judgment. Gessler will play defense from start to finish.
It won't stop with ads. A few unscrupulous reporters will follow routine references to Gessler with phrases like "the Republican nominee found guilty of two ethics violations."
"Democrats will have a field day with Gessler," said a ranking Colorado Republican insider who spoke to The Gazette on background. "I don't think he's electable."
Another ranking Republican, asked about Gessler as nominee, said only this: "train wreck."
Gessler has been a good secretary of state. He peacefully encouraged noncitizens to voluntarily remove themselves from voter registration rolls. He tried to stop liberal Democrats from destroying Colorado's election laws. He temporarily reduced all business filing fees in Colorado to $1, eliminating at least one of the state's notorious barriers to economic development.
Nevertheless, any candidate with two confirmed ethics violations will be crucified in the general election. It's quiet only because Gessler is the opponent Democrats want. At the very least, his campaign should avoid impugning the legitimacy of fellow Republicans who can win.