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December 23, 2007 08:12 PM UTC

While Waak Whines, GOP Rule 11 Kills

  • by: Colorado Pols

When we said a few days ago that state Democratic Party chair Pat Waak was making a needless mistake in “pressuring” a non-factoring wannabe candidate against running for Senate–an especially hypocritical position for Waak, who owes her position as party chair to the Be the Change backlash in the aftermath of the 2004 Salazar/Miles primary lovefest–we meant it. It was stupid of her on ethical as well as tactical levels.

For further confirmation of just how stupid a move it was, the Denver Post reports:

When Bob Schaffer decided to run for Colorado’s open U.S. Senate seat, he knew he probably wouldn’t have a Republican primary opponent. In fact, he told party leaders in May that he would not get into the race otherwise.

To help clear the field, the party invoked a formal process under what’s known as “Rule 11.” Dating back to at least the mid-1990s but little-known among many of the GOP rank and file, Rule 11 allows the national party to abandon its traditional neutral stance and back a candidate long before a primary vote.

It required the signature of the state party chairman and Colorado’s two national Republican committeemen. Of the three who made the decision to back Schaffer, one – because he holds a seat on the National Republican Committee – was Bob Schaffer.

That result is a telling moment in where the state Republican Party stands. Reeling from a series of defeats, party officials say a primary battle in the state’s most important race of 2008 is a luxury they can’t afford.

But the situation looks much the same from the other side. When Democrat Mark Benner recently suggested he would challenge U.S. Rep. Mark Udall of Eldorado Springs for a chance at the Senate seat, state party chairwoman Pat Waak began a series of discussions with Benner “about other ways to get the issues he is interested in out there.” [Pols emphasis]

The Post’s Michael Riley goes on to describe the two situations as evidence that both parties are ‘cracking down’ on primary challengers, citing the deleterious effect this may have on our small-d democracy in ominous tones:

The levers being manipulated to ensure that result are spurring a debate at the edges of the parties over finding the balance between political pragmatism and the exigencies of the democratic process.

The only problem with this analysis is that it’s crap. There’s just no equivalency between Pat Waak nasal-voicing her disapproval on the phone to various local reporters and a national party invoking a formal rule that tells unanointed candidates to get lost. To imply that’s anything even remotely similar is ridiculous–and deceptive.

We think that widespread knowledge of something like Rule 11 would be a really bad thing for the Republican Party, much like other official primary ‘interventions’ have turned out to be for party morale (think Marc Holtzman). And as the current pitched battle over CD-2, not to mention last year’s slugfest in CD-7 (when Ed Perlmutter went on to win the general election in a landslide) demonstrate, there is no equivalent process at work in the Democratic Party. All of which would have been a hell of a lot easier to understand if Waak hadn’t decided to become the very thing she previously claimed to hate, in a situation where there was absolutely no need.

But as wrong as Waak may be, comparing these two cases is completely ridiculous. ‘Discouraging’ a primary and formally trying to stop one are two different things indeed.


8 thoughts on “While Waak Whines, GOP Rule 11 Kills

  1. I feel a need to point out the differences between the Salazar/Miles and Udall/Benner situations.

    In 2004, Miles was already actively running when Salazar got in the race. The party, then lead by Chris Gates, actively “encouraged” everyone else who was running (there were 3 or 4 others) to step aside for Salazar, Miles refused to do so. Gates should have left it at what it then was, a contested primary and remained neutral. He did not. He took several opportunities to undermine the Miles campaign in favor of Salazar. THAT was why I voted for Pat Waak for chair.

    In the Udall/Benner case, Udall was the one and only candidate almost right up to Caucuses. Many of the party leadership had begun actively working with his campaign, etc. Things we would have not done had we known there would be a potential primary challenge. Now the party is being forced into a position of backing off support for our inevitable candidate because of a potential challenge. If Benner wanted to challenge Udall, or even just to get his message (whatever it is) out, he should have spoken up sooner. As it is, he is merely disrupting the internal workings of the party, and it would seem apparently only for that very purpose.

    In this case I believe Waak has a right, perhaps even a duty, to speak out against such disruptions. I have mentioned in other threads how this new development has left us in the counties hanging wondering which way to proceed. I believe it is part of Pat’s job as State Chair to keep the mechanics of the party running. In many ways things are now in limbo.

    For example, I am supposed to be using the holiday period to be making the master copies to be used to create our caucus packets for Denver County, but I can only do so much because until it is clear if this guy is really running or not. His decision whether to run affects the delegate selection process for our county assembly.

    I would point out in the Miles/Salazar race we did not have this internal problem, because a) Miles was a viable candidate and b)we already knew we would be basing the assembly delegates on the US Senate race, it was only a question of who the candidates would be.

    1. The fact is Benner doesn’t stand a chance in the primary much less the general election. The fact was, neither did Miles. (what did he get- 20%?) There’s been enough negative fallout in the party  due to one man’s ego. Maybe Pat decided to leave it at that. It would have been nice if such facts were more apparent to her when BTC approached her to run for Chair.

  2.   It wasn’t just Gates.  The DSCC tried to dictate to Coloradans who the candidate would be.  They issued press releases about Illinois having the only black candidate.  Their web site carried only information about Salazar, and they gave tens of thousands of dollars to Salazar before the primary was decided.  


    1. I only mentioned Gates because the original post was referring to the Waak/Gates race for state party chair that became fall out from the Miles/Salazar race.

      But in all fairness, he was definitely not alone.

  3. Contested primaries usually make us stronger. It gives us a good measure of who the best candidate is, lets each segment of the part have it’s voice heard, and brings everyone behind the winner because it was a process open to all.

    With that said, Benner announcing at the last second and not even clearly in yet is a case where I think it’s fair for Waak to at least question if he is serious & credible and tell him to butt out if not so attention can be paid to those that are.

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