Josh Penry is a man in a hurry. At age 33, he has already served as an aide on Capitol Hill, a Colorado state representative, and a state senator. Last November, he was elected leader of the Senate’s Republican minority.
Now Mr. Penry wants to take on Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter in 2010, who, at this early stage, is not seen as a shoo-in for reelection. Penry’s main opponent for the GOP nomination – former Rep. Scott McInnis, his one-time boss – is taking him seriously.
“There are two frames: new versus old, Denver versus Washington,” says nonpartisan Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli. Penry is “having a fairly sophisticated rollout, and it looks to me he could win the primary.”
For Colorado’s angry Republicans, who saw their reliably red state turn blue in just a few elections, backing the new generation may be a way to reseize momentum.
In an interview, Penry talks about other 30- and 40-something Colorado Republicans jumping into races for Congress, Senate, and state treasurer.
“They all share a common connection, and that is they’re hungry, they’re ideas-based, and they’re extremely energetic about getting Colorado back into Republican hands,” he says.
Rob Witwer, another of Colorado’s conservative young turks, compares Penry to the leader of the British opposition. “Taking a cue from British conservative leader David Cameron, Penry has positioned himself as the head of Colorado’s shadow government, sparring with Democratic governor Bill Ritter on key issues like education, transportation, energy, and taxes,” Mr. Witwer writes in National Review Online.
At campaign appearances, Penry starts by acknowledging the mistakes of Republicans, both in Colorado and Washington, and promises a return to the “basics.” That means low taxes, smaller government, and targeted spending on priorities, such as roads and bridges and keeping college affordable.
“Those aren’t glamorous or front-page issues, but they go to competent governance,” Penry says.
He calls the antitax “tea party” rallies, which he has addressed, an indictment of the GOP. “If the Republican Party hadn’t so thoroughly lost its way on fiscal issues, those folks would be showing up at Republican gatherings,” he says.
But Penry is no flame-thrower. Mr. Ciruli notes that Penry is just as comfortable appealing to centrists as to the base – and that independent voters will be key. “I am a social conservative, but it’s not the reason I’m running,” Penry says.
Part of a series of articles on reshaping the Republican party.
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