I have always liked the formulation put forward by the late William F. Buckley Jr. concerning electoral strategy: to support the rightward-most, viable candidate — the most conservative candidate, that is, who can win.
Buckley actually borrowed the line from his friend and political adversary John Kenneth Galbraith, who concocted it in the reverse in accordance with his ideological alignment. But whichever direction it is applied, the two-part excogitation offers a succinct and generally accurate, if simplistic, validity. It is useful to remember, however, that it does come with two parts, each equally critical.
Primaries, we all know, tend to reduce the process to a simple test of ideological purity, where any real or perceived heterodoxy is put forth as grounds for excommunication. They run a serious risk of electoral myopia, where the second part of Buckley’s equation — ability to win a general election — gets lost in the hysteria whipped up by mobocratic demands for ideological hygiene. One can understand, and sympathize with, reluctance on the part of a Republican primary voter if the most viable candidate is not an orthodox conservative, or virtually indistinguishable from the Democrat — think John Lindsay, or Nelson Rockefeller — but happily that is not the case in Colorado.
We are talking, of course, about the big three races in which there is a Republican primary — governor, U.S. Senate, and secretary of state. The application of Buckley’s maxim clearly points in favor of Heidi Ganahl, Joe O'Dea, and Pamela Anderson.
Republicans face an incumbent governor who is, one, exceptionally politically talented, meaning he is, two, obnoxiously popular, and perhaps most importantly, three, very, very rich. Jared Polis cultivates a leftist populism injected with just enough of a poll-tested libertarian tendency to keep him from generating the same antagonism that most Democrats are facing this year. He is also presiding over record crime, record inflation, terrible roads and all the other problems that arouse the anger glands in voters. Polis is not invincible, but a right-wing ideologue will not defeat him — will not even present him much of a challenge — in a state where the majority of voters are fiscally conservative and socially laissez-faire.
Who could potentially deliver an upset is a thoughtful, prudent conservative able to present workable alternatives to those issues which matter most — public safety, the economy and education — to the most voters. The exceptional Heidi Ganahl is the only candidate with the acumen to do that.
A similar set of factors are at play in the U.S. Senate race, where the prevailing Republican candidate will have to win the support of the same electorate. The contest between Joe O’Dea and Ron Hanks is emblematic of a wider one for the future of the Republican Party. O’Dea is a business owner, able to essentially self-fund against the impressive Democratic money machine and, like Ganahl, a solid conservative in the classical, Burkean sense — prudent, principled, resistant to radicalism in any stripe, and not locked into an ideological A-Z framework more suited to leftist thinking than conservative. His grasp of the economic and national security problems facing America is impressive. Perhaps most importantly, he is not dismissive of national institutions and inherited political structures. Hanks may check more populist boxes — which does not make him more conservative — but his embrace of the election-theft conspiracy renders him un-electable even against Michael Bennet.
Which of course brings us to the secretary of state race. Of the so-called “establishment” candidates, Pamela Anderson may be the least orthodox conservative. But she is running for an office that demands competence and professionalism far more than any overt political philosophy. The incumbent, Jena Griswold, politicized the office nearly beyond recognition. Anderson’s rivals, Tina Peters especially, in clinging futilely to the Trump election narrative not only render themselves un-electable in the general contest, but promise to politicize the office just as badly as Griswold, albeit in a different direction. Anderson’s conservatism is exactly the type needed for that office.
It is little wonder, but still distasteful, that a Democratic PAC is running ads designed to drive Republican primary voters towards Hanks and Ganahl’s opponent, Greg Lopez. They understand the formulation perfectly well and know that both Ganahl and O’Dea present a real threat to Democratic control of the governor’s office and the senate seat.
We leave for last, as is sadly fitting in political accounting, the factors of character and temperament. By all accounts, Ganahl, O’Dea, and Anderson are unimpeachable in this too often ignored regard, and for this reason alone deserve the support of conservatives.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.