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The Governor's Role in the Nominating Process

The RMA (in the persons of Ben DeGrow, the Kestrel, and me) had a chance to interview Governor Owens after yesterday's State of the State address, and the last question asked was about his role in the ongoing Republican gubernatorial nominating process. In short, whether or not it made sense for him to have a role.

His answer can be summarized (not quoted) as follows: He intends to keep a low profile, but is backing Rep. Beauprez. His main purpose in doing so is to preserve party unity, since he sees a practical need for the conservatives in the party to work with its more centrist members, something that neither side always appreciates. Owens told Holtzman that he was backing Beauprez even before Holtzman decided to get into the race, and that Holtzman shouldn't be surprised. Owens seemed genuinely offended that Holtzman would run his campaign against him, and promised that "human nature would kick in," and he would defend his record. In any event, he'd like to be in a position to help whomever the nominee is to win the general.

Everyone wants to win - the Governor's Mansion and at least one house of the legislature if possible. Still, Owens was largely behind the whole Pete Coors thing in 2004, and in the two interviews we've conducted so far, it's clear that Holtzman has more ideas ready to go than Beauprez does. If John Kerry in 04 or the British Tories over the last decade hold any lesson, it's that electability isn't enough to get you elected.

That's not to say Beauprez can't or won't win. It's not to say that by the time people start paying attention, he'll have enough well thought-out policy proposals to fill Ken Salazar's pick-up truck. But Dick Wadhams - remember Dick Wadhams, Governor? - is a big fan of primaries, figuring it makes a better candidate come October. Getting outside help is liable to fool the nominee into thinking he's a better candidate than he really is.

I'm not sure the Governor should be involved here. (Recall the 1988 Presidential race, where the Republicans held neither house of Congress, and yet Ronald Reagan simply refused to insert himself into the nominating process.) I realize he genuinely believes that Beauprez is the better candidate, and he's certainly got the stronger presence in the state. But a debate about the party's character and direction is more or less inevitable upon the retirement of a popular governor, and using the considerable power of the governor's office to short-circuit that debate is likely to breed resentment rather than unity.

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