Steamboat Springs Former Colorado Congressman Scott McInnis all but guaranteed he will take on Gov. Bill Ritter in the 2010 gubernatorial election at the Routt County Republicans' Lincoln Day Dinner fundraiser Friday.
McInnis said Colorado campaign laws prevent him from formally announcing his candidacy but promised the local audience, "I'm ready for a little fight." When local party Chairman Jack Taylor said McInnis was "seriously considering" running for governor, McInnis replied, "That would be an understatement."
Like McInnis, other speakers at Friday's dinner were ready to put the pain of the 2008 election behind them and look optimistically toward 2010.
"We need to keep the faith," state Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, said, "even though the times seem bleak and dark."
The sentiment came with a dose of acknowledgment that Republicans "got our hats handed to us" in 2008, as state Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, put it, and will need to work hard to rebound.
"We are going to be the party of the future," Baumgardner said. "We are going to see things change, but we've got to get out there and work hard."
State party Chairman Dick Wadhams was Friday's keynote speaker, and he said Republicans' future success depends on grass-roots involvement and internal competition rather than strategizing by the party elite.
"More than any other time, we need the involvement of every Republican in Colorado," Wadhams said. "What we need in this party is a great discussion, a great debate."
Wadhams said he was happy that McInnis likely will run for governor, but he also noted other Republican contenders such as Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry and Evergreen businessman Dan Maes. Wadhams said he knows of four Republican candidates who plan to take on U.S. Senator Michael Bennet in 2010: Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, former Congressman Bob Beauprez, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck and talk radio personality Dan Caplis.
"I welcome anybody to run," Wadhams said. "I think we've got plenty of opportunities in 2010. : That's the debate that's going to bring us back."
Wadhams blasted Ritter and Bennet as weak and indecisive leaders.
"I don't think Bill Ritter has even seen a priority but to raise taxes and hand the state over to unions," Wadhams said.
Other candidates at Friday's dinner included Walker Stapleton, who is running for state treasurer, and Scott Gessler, who is running for Colorado secretary of state. Stapleton said he would use the treasurer's office as a "bully pulpit" to fight "spending and taxing initiatives that seem rampant at the state capitol." From an admittedly partisan standpoint, Wadhams said the race was a very important one because of the increasing star power of Democratic state Treasurer Cary Kennedy.
"We've got to take her out because they're going to run her for governor one day," Wadhams said.
Gessler, an election law attorney, said Colorado needs a Republican secretary of state to "stand firm" against efforts to liberalize Colorado elections with such reforms as same-day voter registration.