McConnell campaign counts on constituents’ anger, tea party principles
April 9, 2010
■ Learn about the Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. John Salazar of the San Luis Valley, at this site. Call his Grand Junction office at 970-245-7107 or his Washington office at 202-225-4761.
Steamboat SpringsSteamboat Springs — Say what you will about Bob McConnell’s odds — it won’t slow him down. — Say what you will about Bob McConnell's odds — it won't slow him down.
Steamboat Springs — Say what you will about Bob McConnell's odds — it won't slow him down.
It might only make him angrier.
The fiery Steamboat Springs resident, military veteran, ski patroller, Copenhagen chewer and Republican candidate for Congress is campaigning relentlessly across the Western Slope, despite the long odds of a potential primary against Republican state Rep. Scott Tipton, of Cortez, and, should McConnell get on that ballot and succeed in August, a potential general election against Democratic three-time incumbent U.S. Rep. John Salazar, of the San Luis Valley.
Salazar is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and resoundingly defeated Tipton two years ago. Through Dec. 31, according to the campaign finance Web site http://www.opensecrets.orghttp://www.opensecrets.org, Salazar had nearly $850,000 in campaign funds on hand. Tipton had more than $102,000. , Salazar had nearly $850,000 in campaign funds on hand. Tipton had more than $102,000.
http://www.opensecrets.org, Salazar had nearly $850,000 in campaign funds on hand. Tipton had more than $102,000.
McConnell had about six grand.
But the self-proclaimed "Cowboy Colonel," a former U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, has spent the past several months driving across the 29 counties in Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, hoping to capitalize on a tea party movement made up of residents who share his anger with the federal government. Anger with federal spending, anger with recent health care legislation, anger with the size of government in general.
"This is not the United Socialist States of America — this is the United States of America," North Routt County resident B.J. Vale said Monday at Creekside Cafe, during a reception McConnell hosted for county Republican delegates.
At that reception, Routt County resident and delegate Joe Meglen talked about the "parasites" in Washington. Gerry Greenwood, of Oak Creek, said it seemed to him that McConnell "has been doing a lot of rat-killing in his life, and I think he'll do a lot of rat-killing in Washington."
On his first trip down the campaign trail, McConnell already knows how to fan those flames. On Monday, he borrowed a line from former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who has drawn huge crowds to tea party rallies and made headlines recently for a Web post that placed cross hairs on the districts of several Democratic candidates, including Salazar, who voted for the health care overhaul.
McConnell used that imagery when describing "phase four" of his campaign.
"Put John Salazar in my cross hairs and take him out," McConnell said. "I mean take him out by voting."
'Angry mob of 1'
Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said tea partiers and followers of ideologically similar movements — such as the 9.12 Project and, locally, the Steamboat Institute's 1773 Club — are affecting Colorado politics.
"Certainly, tea party and 9/12 advocates did attend caucuses around the state," Wadhams said. "Clearly, they've had a strong impact on the process, and it's clear that both Scott Tipton and Bob McConnell are seeking support of tea party activists."
Wadhams noted that Tipton and McConnell also are seeking the support of longtime Republicans.
"My principle is to pull those parties together," McConnell said about the two groups.
That ability, to unify voters and relate to them on a personal level, is giving McConnell's campaign its pulse.
McConnell is an attentive conversationalist who often grabs the upper arm of whoever he is speaking with. He's quick with a story, whether it's about how he carried a sign that said "I'm an Angry Mob of One" when President Barack Obama visited Grand Junction, about how he can trace his heritage back to the Revolutionary War, or about how a youth recited a paragraph from the Declaration of Independence at a McConnell event in Pueblo.
He "kind of reminded me of my dad," Greenwood said about McConnell. "My dad was 23 years military."
Greenwood said he views the candidate as a "straight shooter," a phrase heard often at Monday's event. But Greenwood also described his father, and McConnell, as "kind of an idealist" with "real good life experience."
McConnell, 63, summed up his policy ideas quickly Monday.
"We need a massive reduction in spending," he said.
McConnell said that could mean abolishing the federal Department of Education — an idea floated by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton — moving poverty programs "back to neighborhoods" to reduce dependency on federal programs, and even reorganizing the federal Department of Defense to cut its spending. That's a rare position for a retired colonel who is the son of a U.S. Navy fighter pilot and said national defense is "the ultimate federal responsibility."
In order to try to implement any of those policies, the Cowboy Colonel has to defeat Salazar in the fall. Which means he could have to defeat Tipton in a primary. Which means he has to garner enough votes from delegates to get on a primary ballot — no easy feat in a huge district where name recognition, or lack thereof, goes a long way.
McConnell's trying to correct that lack.
On Saturday, he'll have to choose among 10 county assemblies across the district. Routt County's will lose out.
"I've got to go to the biggest delegates," he said, explaining his plans to attend the Mesa County assembly in Grand Junction.
County assemblies don't include votes on the race for Congress. That'll happen at 2 p.m. May 21, at the Embassy Suites hotel in Loveland, as part of the 3rd Congressional District's Republican assembly. GOP delegates from all 29 counties will vote on the Congressional candidates. McConnell and Tipton will need at least 30 percent of those votes to get on an August primary ballot.
"I'm confident I'll be on the ballot," McConnell said.
To try to make that happen, he'll shake a lot more hands before May 21, and get to know a lot more people.
At the Monday night reception, one attendee couldn't quite figure out how he knew McConnell.
So the candidate fired off a question he thought could jog the man's memory.
"Are you involved in the 1773 events?"
The man shook his head no, so McConnell took another shot.
"Are you a skier?"