DENVER — Colorado Republicans fear their party will become a minor party and lose fundraising advantages in the 2012 presidential election if its candidate for governor, tea party favorite Dan Maes, gets less than 10 percent of the vote on Nov. 2.
It's a stunning prospect for a party that has the largest number of registered voters in Colorado and is working hard to elect a Republican U.S. senator and regain at least one U.S. House seat this November.
"It probably will happen," said Republican state party chairman Dick Wadhams. "Voters are asking, 'Why would I waste my vote on Maes? '"
Maes has lost prominent tea party and GOP backing after questions surfaced over his record as a policeman in Liberal, Kan.; fines for campaign finance violations; his equating a Denver bike-share program to a U.N. conspiracy; and his pledge to fire 2,000 state workers as governor "just like that."
Maes faces Democrat John Hickenlooper, Denver's mayor, and former GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo, who bolted from the Republican Party to run against Hickenlooper. Hickenlooper and Tancredo, of the American Constitution Party, have big leads over Maes in polls.
Colorado law defines a minor party as having polled less than 10 percent of the vote in a gubernatorial election.
If Maes doesn't meet that threshold, Colorado would be the only state in the nation where Republicans are considered a minor party, according to the Republican National Committee.
Currently, the Democrats and Republicans are the only major parties in Colorado.
Maes, an Evergreen businessman, won the GOP gubernatorial primary in August thanks to tea party support and after former congressman Scott McInnis' campaign imploded with a plagiarism scandal.
But Maes has lost the support of former GOP U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck – himself a tea party favorite – and former GOP Rep. Bob Beauprez. All cited character issues.
The gubernatorial race is markedly different to the Senate race, in which Buck is mounting a spirited challenge to rookie Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. Democratic Reps. Betsy Markey, Ed Perlmutter and John Salazar also face tough races.
Maes has said he believes many Republicans will stay loyal to their party choice on Nov. 2 and that he won't fall below the threshold.
But Floyd Ciruli, a Colorado political consultant and pollster, said Maes is rapidly losing support and could end up with less than 10 percent of the vote.
"I'd be surprised if on election day he's not in single digits," Ciruli said. "This could cut the GOP fundraising in half for the next election."
Unlike "major" parties, a minor party cannot raise money for both primary and general elections unless it has more than one candidate in any primary race. A major party is required to hold a primary election, even if there is only one candidate for each office, and it can raise money both during the primary and the general election.
In 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain raised $3.4 million in Colorado, compared with $8.3 million for Democrat Barack Obama and $3,300 for American Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Wadhams said he believes the state Legislature will change the law to avoid the embarrassment of treating Democrats differently than Republicans, especially with a presidential election.
State Senate President Brandon Shaffer said Wadhams can't count on it if Democrats retain their majority in the Legislature next month.
"I don't have a lot of sympathy for Dick Wadhams," Shaffer said. "It's his job to recruit good candidates for the Republican Party and he failed."
Tancredo, meanwhile, very well could make the American Constitution Party a major party in Colorado by taking more than 10 percent of the vote, which is considered likely. The ACP in Colorado has 2,330 registered members, compared to 863,000 registered Republicans in Colorado.
If that happens, the ACP would be bound by major party rules, including a requirement to hold expensive statewide caucuses. Jim Clymer, national chairman of the ACP, welcomed the opportunity.
"I realize it would be a burden, but if that happens, we'll step up to the plate," Clymer said.