With the right algorithm, you can calculate almost anything correctly. Using the correct combination of data and logic, a statistical junkie can crunch numbers to make fairly-accurate predictions and analysis about everything from NFL games to business profits and losses.
Politics is different. You can gather all the data you want about politics, but it’s much more difficult to account for the power of perception. Power perceived is power achieved, which is a nice way to sum up one of the biggest political stories of 2015: The Rise of Tim Neville.
Neville served one year in the State Senate in 2012 (he was appointed by a vacancy committee) before reapportionment left him a legislator without a district. In 2014, Neville ran for Senate in SD-16, defeating Democratic incumbent Jeanne Nicholson in one of the most competitive races of the cycle – and helping Republicans capture a one-seat majority in the State Senate.
When the 2015 legislative session convened, Neville wielded the gavel as the Chair of both the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Technology Committee, but he was not selected by his caucus to an official leadership position. Neville lacked the seniority to earn one of the top six positions in the Senate caucus (President, President Pro Tempore, Majority Leader, Assistant Majority Leader, Majority Caucus Chair, and Majority Whip), but that didn’t prevent him from taking control.
By the time the 2015 session came to an end, Neville still didn’t have a cool leadership title – but he had something better. Neville had become the true leader of the Republican caucus, in both chambers, and he had the juice to force Senate President Bill Cadman to grant a late-bill exception for a politically dubious piece of legislation requiring ultrasounds for women considering an abortion. As we wrote in this space in late April, Tim Neville is the Real Senate President:
Neville has emerged as the most prominent Republican of the 2015 legislative session, leading the charge on the controversial anti-vaxxer “Parent’s Bill of Rights,” among other lost causes. The Neville Nutters have been positioning themselves as something of a political “dynasty” in recent years, including Tim’s sons, Rep. Patrick Neville, and Joe Neville, a top lobbyist for the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (whose Executive Director, Dudley Brown, thinks he owns the Senate); as well as sister-in-law Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board. It’s probably not a coincidence that all of the sponsors of SB-285 are also known backers of RMGO.
Thanks in part to his uncompromising right-wing beliefs, no Republican lawmaker made more headlines in 2015 than Neville. Senate President Bill Cadman is term-limited in 2016, and if Republicans are able to keep control of the State Senate, we wouldn’t bet against Neville becoming Senate President in title as well as action.
That is, of course, unless Neville finds himself in a different Senate body next January.
When Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) announced in June that he would not run for U.S. Senate in 2016, we suggested in this space that Neville could be an interesting candidate for the Republican Senate nomination and the right to take on incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Denver):
We have no idea whatsoever if Neville has even contemplated a U.S. Senate campaign, but it’s not difficult to see how you could make an argument for him here. Neville received more publicity than any other Republican in the Colorado legislature this year, and he doesn’t have to worry about re-election until 2018. Neville has a good base of conservative support from the religious right and the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO), so he’s already well positioned to win a Republican Primary — and once you become the GOP nominee in a competitive state like Colorado, there’s always a chance that national groups take notice and decide to jump onboard. Look at this from Neville’s perspective…what’s the downside?
Lo and behold, by the end of the summer, Neville was moving confidently in the direction of the U.S. Senate at the same time “establishment” Republicans continued their frantic search for a candidate who matched up well against Bennet. While Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler was hemming and hawing about a potential Senate bid, Neville quietly announced a statewide “listening tour” to lay the groundwork for a U.S. Senate campaign of his own.
When Neville formally kicked off his U.S. Senate campaign in early January, he made it clear that he would be running as a right-wing Republican in right-wing Republican clothing, promising to focus his campaign on divisive issues such as abortion and gun rights. Neville can do this because he has spent years cultivating relationships with hard-right groups and individuals who share his zeal and ideals. He is a less bombastic version of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has risen to the top tier of Republican Presidential candidates because he so openly defies any attempt at bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate.
Neville has strong support from the religious right and hardline conservatives (including Tea Party enthusiasts), and he has the financial backing of prominent anti-abortion and gun rights organizations. That may not be enough to win a General Election against Bennet, but it’s more than enough to capture the Republican nomination in the June Primary. The field of GOP candidates for Senate is rapidly increasing (we’re up to eight, at last count), but none of those candidates can lay out a strategy for getting past Neville first.
It would be difficult to name another Colorado politician who had a better year in 2015 than Tim Neville. If all goes according to plan, it will be difficult to name somoene who had a better year in 2016, either.