Dan Maes like to brag about taking down the political machine in becoming Colorado's Republican gubernatorial nominee. The way he's going, it may be the only victory in a short-lived political career.
Republicans have spent the week desperately trying to get the tea party favorite to quit the race amid a series of embarrassing missteps that culminated with bizarre claims about his shadowy undercover law enforcement career in Kansas in the 1980s.
Maes vowed to stay on the ticket, depriving Republicans of a chance to find a new candidate before a Friday ballot-certification deadline. That means the party is likely stuck with Maes, who says he's staying in the race for voters who are fed up with the political establishment.
"People are sick and tired of power brokers and they're sick and tired of the machine," the former businessman said.
It all adds up to an eventful ticket in the race to replace Democrat Bill Ritter, who is stepping down.
Maes faces Denver's quirky Democratic mayor, John Hickenlooper, a brew pub owner and restaurateur with ample funding. He has stayed above the fray while running a TV ad showing him taking clothed showers trying to wash away the grime of negative political ads.
Also in the race: Tom Tancredo, who quit the GOP and qualified for the ballot as a third-party candidate. Tancredo has alienated many over his career with his hardline stands on illegal immigration and remarks that Mecca should be bombed if the U.S. suffers another terror attack.
Maes has never been far away from attention-getting headlines himself.
He paid a $17,500 fine for campaign finance violations. He vowed to fire 2,000 state workers "just like that" if elected, even though it may be illegal. He drew international ridicule when he suggested a Denver bike-sharing program is part of a U.N. conspiracy to control American cities.
As if that wasn't enough, he then started talking about his law enforcement career in Kansas in the 1980s.
Maes claimed he was fired by the police department in Liberal, Kan., because police and politicians were corrupt. He said he worked undercover for state investigators. But the Kansas Bureau of Investigation denied Maes ever worked for them, and Liberal's police department won't talk about Maes.
Prominent Republicans, including former Sen. Hank Brown and Senate candidate Ken Buck have abandoned Maes, as have several prominent tea party leaders. All cited character issues with Maes.
Former state Senate leader John Andrews called Maes a "manifestly unfit nominee."
Hear Us Now, a patriot group based in Englewood, sent Maes a letter saying it "cannot stress in strong enough terms the need for you to remove yourself from the race due to the financial and fiscal mismanagement questions."
Maes' candidacy has damaged Republican chances of taking the governor's seat in an election year that nationwide favors Republicans in general. It's also distracting from party efforts to defeat rookie incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, retake both houses of the Legislature from Democrats, and increase the GOP's representation in Colorado's congressional delegation. Republicans currently hold just two of seven House seats.
It's been especially hard on Colorado tea party supporters, who are now divided over their support for Maes. Political analyst Eric Sondermann said it's a sign the movement is growing up and being forced to make compromises.
"They need to decide if they're going to stick with the message of standing for pure, clean candidates or get pragmatic. Ultimately when new political movements become more mature, they become more pragmatic," Sondermann said.
Lana Fore-Warkocz, publisher of a tea party newspaper in Colorado Springs, said she still supports Maes. She said the continuing attacks have split the tea party movement in Colorado.
"He was never meant to win, but he won," she said. "They said he wouldn't win the state assembly and he got 49 percent and top billing. They said he wouldn't get the money to win, and he beat Scott McInnis in the primary. The GOP tried to put in replacements for the general election, including Jane Norton and Bob Beauprez, and Dan refused to step down."
Tea party supporters, Fore-Warkocz said, will "support Dan when they know the truth."
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