DENVER — Entrepreneur Dan Maes cashed in his support from tea party patriot groups to narrowly defeat former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis in Colorado's GOP gubernatorial primary, sending a message to state Republicans that the movement is a force they must reckon with.
Maes' victory in Tuesday's primary came after both he and McInnis sent supporters home as the vote count dragged on. With the count all but complete, Maes led by a 51-49 percent margin.
"This campaign was not conceived in a smoke-filled room of the Brown Palace Hotel. Nor was it conceived by the power brokers in the Republican Party. This campaign began in your backyards," Maes told supporters before his victory was official. The Brown Palace is a Denver landmark.
Maes faces Democrat John Hickenlooper, Denver's mayor, and American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo in the general election. Tea party groups made it clear that Tancredo, a former congressman known for his tough stand on illegal immigration, would not get their support when he bolted from the GOP.
Tancredo claimed neither Maes nor McInnis could defeat Hickenlooper, and he's already aired advertisements assailing Hickenlooper as soft on illegal immigration.
McInnis called Maes on Wednesday to congratulate him and promised to stand with Maes in the general election.
"I am firmly convinced that Colorado taxpayers and citizens can't afford a repeat of four years of bigger government, higher taxes and anti-jobs policies," McInnis said in a statement. "That the Denver mayor, a nice man with a flawed vision, will pursue this Democrat agenda is indisputable."
McInnis urged Republicans "to come together quickly around the basic, bedrock ideas that unite us as Republicans."
Pat Conroy, a supporter of the 9-12 patriot group from Lafayette, said Maes' showing was a tribute to the tea party movement.
"What us tea partiers would like is a little respect. We are the masses," Conroy said.
Maes, an Evergreen businessman and political novice, worked tea party and conservative groups hard for months. His effort bore fruit when he edged McInnis for top billing at the state Republican assembly in May.
Maes said tea party core values of limited government, fiscal responsibility, free enterprise, religious freedom, the value of life, family values and freedom of education fit like a glove with his own.
"My campaign and the birth of the party happened simultaneously," he said.
Tea party activists say McInnis crossed their present-day values a decade ago as a congressman by failing to help rein in the national debt and by supporting an abortion rights group.
McInnis, who served six terms in Congress, also could not recover after it was revealed that he plagiarized parts of a water study for which he was paid $300,000 by a Colorado foundation.
Maes had his own campaign ethics problems. He paid a $17,500 fine for campaign finance violations, including $44,000 he claimed in undocumented mileage expenses.
Maes, a virtual unknown until McInnis' scandal, also raised eyebrows by declaring that a Denver bike-share program encroaches on "personal freedoms," and that as governor he'd fire 2,000 state workers — "just like that."
The businessman says that as governor he would roll back a mill levy freeze intended to raise money for schools, a surcharge on vehicle registrations, and Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter's efforts to promote alternative energy, which Maes says cost jobs in oil and gas.
Ritter announced this year he wouldn't seek a second term.