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An S.O.S. Is Sent to Beauprez

Colorado Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) is being heavily courted to run for governor in 2006 by a handful of powerful state politicians, including Gov. Bill Owens (R).

Owens, who is term-limited out of office in 2006, state Republican Party Chairman Bruce Benson and nursing home executive — and major Republican donor — Ralph Nagel have urged Beauprez to consider the race, according to informed party sources.

That triumvirate has also contacted former Rep. Scott McInnis (R) about a potential gubernatorial bid.

This marks the second time in as many cycles that Beauprez has been recruited to run statewide.

In 2004, Beauprez turned down entreaties to run for the open seat of retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R). Republicans lost that seat in November.

As was the case in 2004, Beauprez is being pulled in two directions simultaneously, with some in the party urging a gubernatorial bid while others, especially those at the National Republican Congressional Committee, push him to run for re-election in his extremely marginal 7th district seat.

“This would take a seat that is on the brink of becoming safe because of the incumbent and turn it into a tossup race again,” said one party strategist familiar with the state’s politics about the possibility of a Beauprez statewide run.

Jordan Stoick, a spokesman for Beauprez, said the Congressman has not met with officials at the Republican Governors Association and “does not plan to meet with them.”

But other informed Republicans point out that the effort to recruit Beauprez is based firmly in Colorado. The Congressman has agreed to at least consider the race, they said, though he is disinclined to make such a run because he is enjoying his time in Washington, D.C., and was named to the powerful Ways and Means Committee in the 109th Congress.

The urgency surrounding a Beauprez candidacy increased Monday when Lt. Gov. Jane Norton (R), who was expected to be Owens’ chosen candidate, removed herself from the governor’s contest without explanation.

Norton’s decision leaves state Treasurer Mike Coffman as the only announced Republican in the contest. University of Denver President Marc Holtzman has formed an exploratory committee to raise money for a bid.

Democrats have a stronger potential field led by Rep. Mark Udall and wealthy philanthropist Rutt Bridges. Former Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter and former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter are also mentioned.

Perlmutter is also seen as a possible candidate for Beauprez’s Congressional seat.

Most state and national Republicans privately acknowledge that Beauprez would be their strongest potential gubernatorial nominee.

“He has the presence, demeanor and stature of a governor,” said one party strategist familiar with Colorado politics.

The source added that because of Beauprez’s unique background as a former dairy farmer, bank president and state party chairman, “he can travel anywhere in Colorado and be comfortable.”

Beauprez’s first run for elected office came in 2002 when he won the 7th district, which was created as a tossup between the parties following the 2000 Census.

He won by just 121 votes out of more than 170,000 cast — the closest Congressional election of that cycle.

With such a narrow winning margin, Beauprez was heavily targeted by national Democrats in 2004 but crushed Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas (D) 55 percent to 43 percent.

That political track record appeals to a number of Republicans.

One Colorado GOP strategist pointed out that Beauprez won a district that then-Vice President Al Gore (D) would have carried in 2000; “as a Republican he was able to reach across the aisle,” said the source.

In his two races Beauprez has also shown a knack for fundraising, raking in $1.8 million in 2002 and nearly $3 million in 2004.

To be sure, Beauprez has the NRCC to thank at least in part for his massive fundraising totals, as he was a major target of GOP giving in both cycles. He has already been named as a member of the Retain Our Majority Program for the 2006 cycle.

If Beauprez does make the gubernatorial race, he would create two interesting political dynamics.

First, he would likely set up another clash between social and establishment conservatives in the state’s Republican Party.

During the 2004 Senate race, Owens very publicly sought to find an alternative candidate to conservative former Rep. Bob Schaffer, a process that went through a number of iterations before Owens and his allies finally settled on brewing magnate Pete Coors. Coors defeated Schaffer in the Republican primary but wound up losing the general election to then-state Attorney General Ken Salazar (D).

Coffman, the state treasurer, is closely identified with the state’s social conservatives, while Beauprez is seen as a darling of the party’s establishment wing.

Second, Beauprez’s departure from the House would set off a costly battle between the two national parties for one of the few remaining true tossup House districts in the country.

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