Rocky columnist Blake touted Wadhams' campaigning prowess, omitted role negative tactics played in his successes

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake wrote about two successful campaigns run by Colorado political consultant Dick Wadhams, who is running for chairman of the state's Republican Party, without mentioning the negative campaign tactics Wadhams used in both cases.

In a January 13 column titled "No, really -- Wadhams wants state GOP chairmanship," Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake pointed to two of Colorado political consultant Dick Wadhams' campaign successes without acknowledging -- aside from a passing mention of comparisons between Wadhams and Karl Rove -- the negative campaign tactics Wadhams has used to achieve those successes.

Writing of Wadhams' "perverse streak," Blake recounted how Wadhams took on two difficult campaigns -- Wayne Allard's (R-CO) 1996 race for an open Senate seat and John Thune's 2004 challenge of then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD):

"I can't tell you how many people called me up when I went to work for Allard in 1995 to say, 'You've got to be kidding,' " he recalled. 'There's no way Allard can hope to come close to (Attorney General) Gale Norton for the nomination, much less win a statewide electon [sic].' "

In 2004, he rejected advice to help Rep. George Nethercutt win a Senate seat in Washington. Instead he went to South Dakota to manage the Senate campaign of John Thune against Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Crazy, said Wadhams' friends, who noted that two years earlier Thune "couldn't even beat Tim Johnson." Of course Thune won.

As other Colorado media outlets have done in reporting Wadhams' plans to run for the chairmanship of the Colorado Republican Party, Blake omitted any mention that Wadhams has become notorious for using negative campaigning to achieve some of his success, as Colorado Media Matters has noted. For example, according to an online DenverPost.com article dated January 8, "Wadhams is politically brutal enough to be considered a Republican hitman." A September 2006 Washington Monthly article ("Rove 2.0: Dick Wadhams is the next Republican maestro of cutthroat campaigning. Can Democrats figure out how to stop him?") reported Wadhams' comment that "[g]oing negative gets a bad rap." Likewise, a June 10, 2005, profile ("Dick Wadhams: Karl Rove's Heir Apparent") in the online magazine Slate quoted Wadhams as saying, "There's nothing wrong with going negative." As Colorado Media Matters noted, both articles gave examples of Wadhams employing methods that Washington Monthly characterized as "combining blistering verbal assaults, nasty wedge issues, and general loud-mouthing."

In contrast to Blake, the online political daily news site Colorado Confidential on January 9 posted an item reviewing what it called Wadhams' "brutal slash-and-burn tactics against political journalists" and noting a variety of national reports documenting his track record. Additionally, Washington Monthly described the tactics Wadhams used for the campaign of Allard, who faced Democrat Tom Strickland in the 1996 and 2002 general elections:

When Republican senator Wayne Allard of Colorado faced a challenge from Democrat Tom Strickland, Wadhams described Strickland as an untrustworthy "lawyer-lobbyist," and "the dirtiest candidate in America." (One columnist marveled, "[W]ho else [but Wadhams] can say 'lawyer-lobbyist' 50 times an hour and, each time, make it sound exactly like 'murderer-rapist'?") When Strickland arranged a climb to the top of Grays Peak at sunrise to showcase his environmental credentials, Wadhams made sure a team of catcalling Allard staffers was waiting for him at the summit. Twice, Strickland faced off against Allard and Wadhams; both times, he lost.

Washington Monthly also described other negative campaigning from Wadhams' 2004 Thune race:

In 2004, when Wadhams was helping Republican John Thune to unseat South Dakota Democrat and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, every weapon in the arsenal was unfurled. There were damaging storylines: Daschle was a "pathological liar," a farm-boy turned effete Michael Moore groupie who had reliably "emboldened Saddam Hussein." There was base-riling: At many of the state's churches, packages arrived filled with bumper stickers carrying the slogan "Vote Daschle, Vote for Sodomy." (Wadhams was careful to distance himself personally from those deliveries -- but happy to discuss them.) And there was Wadhams as one-man campaign wrecking ball: When Daschle communications director Dan Pfeiffer tried to squeeze in a media hit after an election-related courthouse faceoff, Wadhams stood just off-camera bellowing "Bullshit! Bullshit!" like an outraged baseball fan cat-calling a major-league ump.

The Slate profile made similar observations about Wadhams' tactics in Thune's race against Tom Daschle:

In South Dakota he honed his slash-and-burn reputation, relentlessly attacking Daschle about his Washington, D.C., home, luxury car, and lobbyist wife. At one point, Wadhams accused the former minority leader of having "emboldened Saddam Hussein." Thune won, by a slim margin, and gratefully dubbed his campaign manager "the best pit bull out there."

[...]

In the South Dakota race, it was Wadhams who relentlessly portrayed Daschle as a former prairie boy who had morphed into an East Coast yuppie. He "is deathly afraid someone will expose his record of saying one thing from his $3 million mansion in Washington, D.C. and saying another thing when he visits South Dakota," Wadhams told the New York Times Magazine. Asked if he'd feel comfortable levying that line, Thune acknowledged he wouldn't. "But that's why I hired Dick," he said.

From Peter Blake's January 13 Rocky Mountain News column, "No, really -- Wadhams wants state GOP chairmanship":

Colorado state chair is historically a dead-end job in both parties. The only one in recent memory who used it as a steppingstone was Bob Beauprez, who made it to Congress. But he turned out to have no staying power.

"I've seen state chairmen beat up, crucified and blamed for everything under the sun," Wadhams conceded.

So why did he agree when Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany asked him to consider the job? "It looked like a challenge that would be a lot of fun and I'm just dumb enough to think that there's a great opportunity here too."

The man who during the summer and early fall was termed "the next Karl Rove" would rather run a presidential campaign, of course.

[...]

Wadhams has long had a perverse streak. "I can't tell you how many people called me up when I went to work for Allard in 1995 to say, 'You've got to be kidding,' " he recalled. " 'There's no way Allard can hope to come close to (Attorney General) Gale Norton for the nomination, much less win a statewide electon.' "

In 2004, he rejected advice to help Rep. George Nethercutt win a Senate seat in Washington. Instead he went to South Dakota to manage the Senate campaign of John Thune against Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Crazy, said Wadhams' friends, who noted that two years earlier Thune "couldn't even beat Tim Johnson." Of course Thune won.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.