Gubernatorial ambitions set stage for clash of political allies

The battle for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010 could be a Western Slope affair, pitting former Congressman Scott McInnis against his onetime aide, Josh Penry.

McInnis, who retired from Congress in 2004 after six terms representing the 3rd District, is interested in the job, as is Penry, now the minority leader in the state Senate.

Penry served for a time as McInnis’ spokesman in Washington, D.C., before returning to the Grand Valley to run for the state Legislature.

Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said he was aware of interest by both men in the opportunity to run against incumbent Democrat Bill Ritter of Denver.

“They’re both terribly formidable people,” Wadhams said. “It really is a tribute to the vast political talent of the Republican Party in western Colorado.”

During his six terms, McInnis was “invulnerable” in the 3rd District, Wadhams said.

The 3rd District has the land mass of Florida and covers most of the Western Slope and south side of the state.

Penry has had a “meteoric” rise in the Legislature, becoming minority leader in his second legislative session as a senator, Wadhams said.

Penry and McInnis have clashed indirectly before, when Penry bested Matt Smith, McInnis’ brother-in-law, when Penry sought to run for the Senate in 2006.

Penry had succeeded Smith in the House District 54 seat, which he sought with McInnis’ endorsement in 2004.

McInnis said Tuesday he still has political ambitions and, “My focus is more on the governor’s seat.”

Penry said he has received “a lot of encouragement from legislators, party activists and just unsolicited e-mails from people who want new energy and fresh leadership.”

Once the session is over, Penry said, he’ll discuss it with his family.

Rumors generally run amok as the party’s central committee prepares to gather, as it is doing this weekend in Denver, McInnis said.

“This week, everybody is running for everything,” he said.

Except that he’s not interested in the Senate seat occupied by Denver Democrat Michael Bennet, McInnis said.

“My interest is not there,” he said. “I came home (to Colorado), and I’m staying home.”

Ritter should take note of the Republicans looking to run against him, Penry said.

“I think the fact that Scott and some other prospective candidates are re-engaging in the fight speaks to the fact that this governor has made himself very vulnerable,” Penry said.


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