DENVER — With precious days left to sway primary voters, three of the four Colorado Republicans seeking their party’s gubernatorial nomination are aligning themselves with the anti-establishment wave that just toppled the second most powerful Republican in the U.S. House, majority leader Eric Cantor.
After Cantor lost his seat Tuesday night to a virtually unknown professor, Dave Brat, due to strong support from anti-Cantor forces within conservative talk radio and beyond, Tom Tancredo, Scott Gessler and Mike Kopp openly celebrated.
“If I were a drinking man, I’d have been drunk last night. I’d have been celebrating like crazy,” Tancredo said on the Peter Boyles Show Wednesday morning after the host referred to Cantor’s defeat as a “bitch-slapping.”
Tancredo, probably the favorite to win the June 24 gubernatorial primary and already the favorite of the party’s conservative Tea Party wing, also sent out a press release declaring that Cantor’s defeat boded well for him.
“This is one of those ‘shot heard round the world’ moments,” he said in the press release from his campaign. “This primary election should put fear into the heart of every establishment politician. These politicians have betrayed us and the grassroots folks are showing that we are not done fighting for our country.”
“With our Colorado primary just days away, I sense the same passion that ousted Cantor among Republican voters in Colorado. It’s a passion that the party bosses and political establishment don’t understand, and they wish they could squelch. But they can’t squelch it. This is our Country, this is our State, and we intend to take it back.”
Mike Kopp, perhaps the biggest underdog in the four-candidate field, found inspiration in Brat’s unlikely victory, which he turned into a fundraising pitch Wednesday.
“I know we’re a world away from Virginia politics, but Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprise loss (reports are his internal polls had him winning by 30 points) last night does provide one universal lesson: Republican candidates embrace the dysfunctional establishment at their peril,” Kopp stated in his email to supporters.
“Despite outspending his tea party opponent by 28 to 1, Cantor’s Republican constituents looked past $5 million of TV ads, radio spots and direct mail – and declined to send him back to Congress.”
Gessler struck the same anti-establishment tone in his own fundraising pitch, even going as far as to point out that Cantor endorsed rival Bob Beauprez in the gubernatorial race.
“Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing to Tea Party candidate Dave Brat last night was just the beginning,” Gessler wrote. “A few months ago when we won the Caucus straw poll and made it on to the ballot at the State Assembly we put the establishment on notice.
“As you know I’m running in a primary against Bob Beauprez. Although I have great respect for him – Beauprez spent years in congress supporting issues that I could never support – like the healthcare individual mandate and warrantless wiretaps. During his time in DC, Bob made many very powerful friends like Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the leading Republican voice for amnesty. Cantor put his full weight behind Bob, endorsing him, raising money for him and stumping for him.”
After Cantor’s defeat, there is no Republican facing a primary who underestimates the power of the party’s grassroots, according to political analyst Eric Sondermann.
“It just further locks in the dysfunction and stalemate that we have where neither party is willing to remotely challenge the loudest voices on either pole, which is especially pronounced on the right,” Sondermann said. “If you’re an up and coming Republican and want to climb the political ladder, you’re not going to ruffle any feathers, you’re not going to do anything to work across the aisle or even near the political center. You’re just going to cater to the true believers of the world.”
Beauprez, who calls Cantor a friend, is positioning himself as the party’s best chance to win in November — but a general election mantra is often at odds with the conservative fervor that so often drives conservative voters toward more uncompromising candidates.
“Republican voters have a choice to make: do they want to make their heart beat fast at the end of June or do they want to go to a victory party in November?” Sondermann said.
“And those two are probably incompatible.”