IN RESPONSE | Criticism of state GOP missed its mark by a mile

 

Scapegoating is as old as the Bible. The word comes from the Book of Leviticus, where the chief priest laid the sins of the people on a goat which was then banished into the wilderness. The goat had done nothing to deserve odium, but it served an important purpose by alleviating the people’s psychological burden.

In the wake of Colorado’s blue tsunami, it’s predictable Republicans would look for someone to blame. It’s especially predictable George Athanasopoulos, who ran for Colorado Republican chairman last year, would blame the man who beat him (“Blame bad strategy, not blue wave, for Republican failure on Election Day,” Nov. 12). But those of us most involved in the party know Chairman Jeff Hays did everything humanly possible to secure Republican victories last Tuesday. Saddling him with guilt accomplishes nothing but to make Athanasopoulos feel better about himself. In fact, pointing the finger at state party leadership is counterproductive because it obscures the real problems Colorado Republicans need to solve between now and the next election.

Especially given Colorado’s stringent campaign finance regime, the state party’s role is necessarily limited; but this year, the Colorado GOP played its small part admirably. Its ground game started earlier than in 2014, when Republicans won, and it was quantitatively robust. Athanasopoulos’ assertions to the contrary aren’t simply a matter of perspective. They’re fictions invented by a guy who spent the election on the sidelines, carping while others contributed to the cause, and therefore isn’t in a position to know what he’s talking about.

Athanasopoulos writes, “Republican candidates [and] the party apparatus… outsourced their ground games to political consulting houses like Vanguard Strategies and don’t employ them in the field until approximately 90 days before Election Day.” That sentence is false from beginning to end. The Colorado Republican Party doesn’t outsource its ground game to anyone, and this year it started back in March, not 90 days before the election. Back in 2014, when Cory Gardner ousted Sen. Mark Udall, the ground game started significantly later, in May.

The state party’s field efforts not only started earlier than normal this year but performed well. The Republican National Committee compiled a daily list of the state parties making the most voter contacts by phone and door-to-door. Although Colorado was competing against much larger states, like Florida and Ohio, and states where the RNC had made significantly heavier investments on account of competitive U.S. Senate races, we consistently ranked among the 10 top-performing states in the country.

In other words, the Colorado Republican Party’s ground game wasn’t weak, as Athanasopoulos claims. It was exceptionally strong, compared both to other state parties this cycle and to the Colorado Republican Party’s performance in the past.

Athanasopoulos’ criticism of the state party would be harmless if not for the fact that we have an election coming up in 2020 and another in 2022. Colorado Republicans must learn the correct lessons from the failure of 2018, or else we’ll keep losing.

Internal analysis will shed more light on what went wrong, but one thing we know for certain: a candidate willing to spend $23 million of his own money is difficult to combat. For the first time in at least several cycles, the Colorado Republican Party raised and donated to Walker Stapleton’s campaign the maximum contribution allowable by law, but that was only a little more than $600,000. The transfer reflects well on the state party’s leadership, but it was a drop in a cycle awash with Jared Polis’ self-funding.

To compete with Democrats willing to spend $23 million on their own elections, we need Republicans willing to donate $23 million to Colorado PACs on the Republican side. Without a semblance of parity in funding, it won’t matter if the Colorado Republican Party’s ground game is superb.

Jake VianoChair, Denver Republican PartyDenver

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