Trouble Brewing In Colo.?
Less than 24 hours after tepidly declaring his support for former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) in Colorado’s open-seat Senate race, Gov. Bill Owens (R) seemingly reversed course Wednesday with his revelation that brewing company mogul Pete Coors would enter the race.
Although Owens did not endorse Coors’ candidacy, he did speak highly of the chairman of the board of the Coors Brewing Co. “I think Pete Coors would make an outstanding Senator,” Owens told reporters assembled for a press conference announcing a federal grant to fight wildfires.
“What a way to have your candidacy first reported on,” joked one GOP source about Owens’ “announcement” for Coors.
Laura Sankey, a Coors spokeswoman, said Wednesday that “it is up to him to discuss any plans he might have.” Sankey added that Coors had made no formal statement on the race but “will do so in the future.”
Owens’ gambit is only the latest in a series of political power plays involving the Senate race hatched by the Colorado governor that have, to this point, fallen flat.
Several Republicans interviewed for this story expressed unhappiness with the approach Owens has taken to recruiting since Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R) announced his retirement on March 1.
After turning down a bid himself, Owens has publicly — and unsuccessfully —
courted Reps. Bob Beauprez and Scott McInnis, Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, former Ambassador Jim Nicholson and, most recently, real estate magnate Dave Liniger.
Liniger traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to discuss the race, accompanied by one of Owens’ top political operatives, but subsequently announced he would not run just days later.
One Republican operative not affiliated with either campaign called Coors just “the latest rich guy” Owens has touted.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Dan Allen was more subdued about the current state of the race and Owens’ role to this point.
“We are talking with GOP leaders out there that would include Governor Owens, the state party and both U.S. Senators,” Allen said.
Republican sources, however, said that the NRSC was unaware of Pete Coors’ interest until Owens announced it Wednesday.
Brad Woodhouse, communications director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, cast the potential primary between Coors and Schaffer as a “country club limousine Republican versus a right-wing movement conservative.” Democrats have coalesced around the candidacy of state Attorney General Ken Salazar.
At press time, however, confusion reigned among Colorado Republicans. Insiders said Schaffer was likely to remain in the race, while Coors himself had not yet spoken on his own apparent candidacy.
In a statement Wednesday night, Schaffer said he “looks forward to a full and fair debate about the issues facing working people and the families of Colorado.”
What was clear was that the entrance of Coors could impact the former Congressman’s natural base in the socially conservative wing of the party.
The Coors family has strong ties to conservatives both nationally and in the state, including former Sen. Bill Armstrong (R-Colo.), one of the earliest and most ardent backers of Schaffer’s bid.
Armstrong did not return a call seeking comment.
At least one Republican strategist familiar with the state’s politics, however, suggested that the drawn-out search for an alternative to Schaffer could solidify the former House Member’s support on the party’s ideological right.
“The activist base in Colorado is getting absolutely furious about this,” said the source. “They are coalescing around Schaffer very strongly right now.”
Regardless of the criticism surrounding his recruitment into the race, Coors is widely regarded as a formidable figure in the state.
As the head of the third-largest brewing company in the country, he is well-known in Colorado and appears as the public face of the company in its television commercials, which picture the silver-haired Coors advocating for his product in an idyllic mountain setting.
“He is active and visible in the community,” said a Republican familiar with the state’s politics. “He does a lot of charitable stuff.”
Coors was also one of the key players in Denver’s securing of the expansion Colorado Rockies baseball team in the early 1990s.
Coors joined the ownership group as a limited partner and offered to pay $30 million for the naming rights of the stadium — now known as Coors Field — a move that was seen as the clincher to bring a team to the state.
Democrats late Wednesday issued a veiled threat to the new candidate, intimating that he should be ready for an exhaustive examination of his background.
“He had better be ready to have his and his family’s history picked apart,” said a Democratic strategist.
The biggest factor in Coors’ favor, however, is his huge bank account, which would allow the Republican to foot the bill for a high-spending campaign if he chooses to do so.
The company had sales of $4 billion in 2003 with a net income of $175 million.
Coors has been an active donor to Colorado political candidates in the past decade, contributing more than $70,000 during the past three cycles to Republican candidates including $30,000 to the Allard Victory Committee, the coordinated campaign to benefit Sen. Wayne Allard (R) in his tight re-election victory over former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland (D) in 2002.