Colorado Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes’ campaign has finally fallen off the cliff it had been heading toward for weeks.
We’ve detailed Maes’ numerous troubles before. (And. Boy. Has. He. Had. Troubles.) Maes’ isn’t just dealing with scandals or gaffes like some other inexperienced politicians this year. He’s been abandoned by political allies, trails badly in the polls and is chronically short of funds. The calls for him to drop out are coming from all sides. Desperately lacking a clear strategy, he recently sank to simply calling one of his opponents, renowned nativist Tom Tancredo, an “illegal immigrant.” All this with more than a month still to go before election day.
And while Tancredo’s third-party run may be what definitively ruined Republicans’ chances in the race, Maes is still the one carrying the GOP banner, waving it futilely as his campaign nosedives.
According to the TPM Poll Average, Maes now commands less than 20% of the vote, and not only trails Democrat John Hickenlooper by 27 points, but also lags nearly 8 points behind Tancredo. The TPM Poll Average also shows Maes with a favorable-unfavorable rating of 34.7%-49.9%.
Meanwhile, Maes has practically no money left with which to run. From Sept. 2-15, Maes raised only $14,000, and he had only $24,000 in the bank on Sept. 15. The Denver Post reports that he spent one-third of what he raised during the period to pay for legal fees related to the $17,500 in fines from campaign finance violations he was hit with earlier in the summer.
“Dan won the primary on a shoestring, and has no problems doing the same for the general,” Maes campaign spokesperson Nate Strauch told TPM this week when asked about the fundraising issue. Still, money must motivate Maes in some way, or else he wouldn’t have called on his supporters to join him to “make history” by raising $500,000 in a single day last Friday. He fell short. How short? “Suffice it to say it was not in six figures,” Strauch told Westword.
But what did anyone expect from a man who went on national TV and denounced a Denver bicycle program as a UN plot? Though Maes claims he rode a Tea Party wave to victory in the primary, the reality is the nomination fell into his lap. A plagiarism scandal undid the campaign of Republican Party favorite Scott McInnis, an experienced and well-connected former congressman. And even facing a scandal-stained McInnis (and with the reported help of Democratic groups who spent heavily on anti-McInnis ads, eager to get rid of a strong foe before the general), Maes only won 50.6%-49.3%.
Even before the August 10 primary, Maes showed signs of vulnerability. In mid July, he was hit with the aforementioned fines for, among other things, allegedly paying himself $42,000 in mileage reimbursements. A few days later, he released his tax returns to a Tea Party-friendly website (after declining to provide them to the Post). While Maes had styled himself as a fiscally responsible and successful businessman, his returns showed him struggling to earn enough income to clear the poverty line. “We could go bankrupt doing this,” Maes told the Post of his campaign at the time, before adding “I won’t let that happen.”
Since the primary, it’s been more bad news for Maes. Tancredo entered the race after Maes and McInnis declined his request that they drop out so that the party could select a fresh candidate. Tancredo’s been raising money fast and campaigning hard — and doesn’t seem to care that he’s pretty much ensuring Hickenlooper’s victory. In an interview with TPM, Tancredo accused Maes of “snake oil salesmanship.”
And then in early September came a Post story in which Maes admitted that parts of his tale of undercover work with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation back in the 1980s “might have been incorrect comments.” He later reasserted his story, but has not yet produced his personnel file, which could clear up the whole issue. The Maes campaign told TPM last week that they expected to receive the file this week, but have not responded to several requests for updates on its status.
In the meantime, the story was enough to shake Maes’ relationship with some high-profile Republicans and even some of his long-time supporters in the Tea Party. The Republican Governors Association appears to have packed up and gone home. Senate nominee Ken Buck withdrew his endorsement. And while most of the county GOP chairs contacted by the Colorado Independent said they supported Maes, state party chair Dick Wadhams has served as courier for Tancredo’s offer that both he and Maes drop out and clear the way for a new candidate.
But Maes’ resolve to stay in the race has not wavered, at least not publicly. Even when a radio host called him “either delusional or dishonest” on Wednesday, he held fast. When confronted with his huge fundraising gap, he responded “Been there, done that.” And when the subject of Tancredo came up, he got nasty.
“We’ve got an illegal immigrant in the system right now,” Maes said (audio here). “And it’s a minor party candidate, who didn’t go through the system. And he went in the side door at the last minute. Now he’s trying to take a job away from someone who earned it.”
Of course, the happiest person here has to be Hickenlooper. The Democrat pledged to run a positive campaign, a job Maes has made quite easy. Hickenlooper has a commanding lead in the polls and a massive war chest, and the Governor’s mansion seems all but his. Maybe he can offer Maes a special, private tour — he’s earned it.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com