This article is part of a partnership between Rewire and the Center for Independent Media and was published first at the Colorado Independent.
Can Colorado Republican state Sen. Dave Schultheis — who once claimed that HIV stemmed from "sexual promiscuity" — be Musgraved?
Not likely. But Republican state Senate Candidate Tom McDowell is
determined to try. He wants to move the dial in Colorado Springs away
from a social politics that puts abortion, gay rights and illegal
immigration front and center and toward a fiscal politics that
prioritizes economic policy and job creation. In other words,
pro-choice McDowell wants to unseat the man who asserted on the floor
of the Colorado Senate that providing tax money to test for HIV in pregnant moms would be taking away the god-directed “negative consequences” of sexual promiscuity.
Sixty-two-year-old McDowell told the Colorado Springs Gazette that the emphasis on social issues
is driving people away from the party– at least enough of them that the
GOP is effectively relinquishing any chance to regain the majority. The
GOP he said is “choosing to lose.”
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McDowell compared local Republicans to the Colorado
Rockies, whose attendance figures jumped this summer when the team
started winning. “Politics works the same way,” he said. “If you choose
to lose, you can’t get political contributions, you can’t get people to
work for you.”
You also can’t control the political agenda, he noted.
It’s an argument that goes to the heart of a debate simmering in
local, state and national Republican circles since the GOP wipeout in
November 2008: Does the party need to reach out to moderates and
liberals to succeed? Does success require a “big tent” where
anti-abortion and pro-choice Republicans are equally welcome?
Schultheis has never made a secret of his preference for ideological purity over let’s-make-a-deal politics.
“He wants to abandon the principles of the Republican Party in order
to win elections,” he said of McDowell. “I don’t agree with it.”
In fact, Schultheis said that the party has already become too
liberal. “It’s gone too far the other way.” It’s all the opposite of
what McDowell is saying, said Schultheis. It’s the softening of the GOP
ideological edge that is costing elections.
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams seems to believe this is a non-issue and downplayed it to the Gazette.
“The issues that unite us as Republicans are fiscal and
economic,” he said, “and I think you’re going to see those issues
playing out in the 2010 elections.” He said the Schultheis-McDowell
fight was “the rare exception.”
That’s probably not true at all. Republican Kit Roupé is battling
Mark Barker to face incumbent Democrat Dennis Apuan for Colorado
Springs House District 17. The main issue dividing the two Republicans
is abortion. In the 4th Congressional District last election, moderate
Democrat Betsy Markey unseated major social conservative and
anti-abortion crusader Marilyn Musgrave in a campaign that mostly fell
along these lines.
But McDowell likely lives in the wrong district to sell this version of Republicanism.
“A pro-choice Republican is never going to win in
northern Colorado Springs,” said Daniel Cole, a local conservative
activist and a regular contributor to The Gazette’s editorial page.
“There might be some parts of the country where Republican voters
don’t like social conservatism,” Cole continued. “All I know is that
the voters certainly do like social conservatism in Senate District 9.”