By Dave Kopel
Dec. 1, 1990
John Andrews, the recent Republican candidate for Governor, has always looked to Barry Goldwater as a role model. One portion of the Goldwater legacy that Andrews probably didn't want, but picked up anyway, was losing the election by a landslide.
In the last half of the 20th century, only one Republican Presidential candidate has failed to carry Colorado -- Barry Goldwater in 1964.That year Goldwater pulled in 38% of Colorado's vote, the same percentage as Andrews in 1990.
Andrews, like Goldwater, represents the ideologically purist wing of the Republican party -- a wing that can control the nomination, but does not necessarily appeal even to mainstream Republican voters. Just as moderate-conservative Democrat Lyndon Johnson trounced Goldwater, moderate-conservative Democrat Roy Romer ran all over Andrews.
Colorado's political and media establishment mocked Andrews for most of the entire campaign, predicting that his extremism would lead to a rout. Yet it's unlikely the Republicans would have done better with anybody else.
In 1986, the Republicans nominated the antithesis of Andrews -- Senate President Ted Strickland. A non-ideological political insider, Strickland fights for big government and against tax limitation. While the Republican establishment mostly abandoned Andrews in 1990, Strickland in 1986 was showered with Republican cash. And of course in 1986, candidate Romer did not enjoy the advantages of incumbency and a huge warchest that Governor Romer did in 1990.
Strickland's performance, with all the advantages that Andrews lacked? Just 42% -- only 4% better than Andrews.
And unlike the Strickland campaign, the Andrews campaign may yet metamorphose into a Republican triumph. Consider Barry Goldwater's 1964 debacle, which looks more and more like a victory in retrospect.
One young man who cut his political teeth on the Goldwater campaign was an Arizona lawyer named William Rehnquist, now Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
The closing days of the Goldwater campaign were sparked by a national television address on Goldwater's behalf, delivered eloquently by an unemployed actor named Ronald Reagan. The speech launched Reagan's own political career.
Just as President Kennedy had spurred a generation of liberals into a life of activism, the Goldwater campaign stirred tens of thousands of dedicated young conservatives. These young conservatives became the core of the network that would one day propel Ronald Reagan to the Presidency.
One of the reasons that Goldwater lost so badly was that he wouldn't change his message to fit his audience. Whether in New York or New Mexico, Goldwater refused to discuss local issues; instead, he relentlessly hammered his passionate theme of anti-communism and unregulated capitalism. Goldwater's approach cost him votes -- but the purity helped build the conservative base in a way that a more opportunistic strategy never could.
Like Barry Goldwater, John Andrews ended the campaign with the same anti-government principles he began with. To anyone who would listen, Andrews preached the gospel of free choice and free markets. Goldwater had insisted that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" and Andrews agreed.
Not until the next century will we know if John Andrews' defeat contains the seeds of some future conservative victory. In the meantime, Colorado voters of all political stripes can be happy that in the last Gubernatorial election, they were presented with real options about the direction of government -- with what Barry Goldwater called "a choice, not an echo."