By Peter Jones
The trials faced by Republicans in the 1st Congressional District have just gotten more challenging with the entrance of independent candidate Danny Stroud into the race to represent the Democratic-dominated area.
The former Republican, who unsuccessfully sought the seat in 2012 as the party’s nominee, has petitioned onto the ballot in a bid opposing nine-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Diane DeGette and this year’s first-time Republican candidate Martin Walsh.
Stroud, a former chair of the Denver party, says his experience two years ago convinced him that the Republican establishment has effectively written off the 1st District by supporting its candidates with little more than a pat on the back.
“A lot of people say the district is unwinnable – that’s the way it’s always been, so shut up and sit down. Well, I live here and I’m not going to do that,” Stroud said. “Our government is set up as a two-party system, but in this case we don’t have a two-party system. We have a one-party system with a whipping post.”
As a testament to the relative irrelevance of the 1st District to Republicans or vice verse, Stroud points to the disinterest in his challenge among party officials who he says are decidedly unconcerned about splitting the district’s Republican vote.
“I haven’t felt one degree of heat coming out of that,” Stroud said.
Even so, when a handful of Republican rank and file have quietly expressed split-vote concerns to the candidate, Stroud has answered them confidently.
“If this race is unwinnable and they say ‘We don’t want you to run because you’re going to split the vote, so we’ll lose’ – that’s just illogical,” he said.
The Republican conventional wisdom is not without reason. DeGette has represented the 1st District since 1997, succeeding Rep. Pat Schroeder who held the seat for nearly a quarter century after defeating a one-term Republican in 1972. Before that, a Republican had not represented the district since World War II.
For most of its history, the 1st District was confined to the City of Denver, a typically safe urban harbor for Democrats. In recent decades, the district has inched its way into the suburbs – Englewood, Sheridan, parts of Adams and Jefferson counties, and finally the more Republican Cherry Hills Village.
Still, Democrats in the 1st District continue to outnumber Republicans by a greater than 2-to-1 margin. Unaffiliated voters, like Stroud, remain around 30 percent of registrants – and those voters will be key, the candidate says.
“I think it’s doable,” he says of his chances, insisting his candidacy is not symbolic.
What’s more, Stroud says, as an independent candidate he will not be bound by what he considers the unsustainable platform of the Republican Party.
“They still don’t seem to understand the concept of big tent. They talk about it, but they don’t get it,” the candidate said. “I tried to change the party from within. After a year and a half of doing that, it became really clear that the Republican Party was on somewhat of an autopilot.”
In contrast to some in his party, Stroud takes what he considers a more moderate view on immigration reform, in his case essentially allowing a kind of legal status for those who have not broken serious laws since entering the country illegally.
“We need good immigrants,” he said. “We do nothing and we end up having these situations with all these children coming in. If I was in the position of these families down there – if I saw a hole in the process where I could find a way to get my kids into a better place, man, I bet you I’d probably be doing it.”
On the issue of gay marriage, Stroud thinks each state – not the federal government – should make the final decision.
“I have no problem with it all,” he said of gay marriage.
Born to a career-National Guard father, Stroud, 61, grew up in a working-class Oregon family. After attending West Point, he served six years as an Army chemical-warfare specialist before becoming a small-business owner. The candidate’s first foray into politics was an unsuccessful run in state House District 1 before he chaired the Denver Republican Party for one year.
Stroud has no illusions about fundraising or getting invited to forums with DeGette and Walsh. Instead, he plans to run a grassroots social-media campaign that he says will be void of tactics from the Republican playbook and will focus instead on back-to-basics leadership.
“We’re not dealing with the real issues of serving this American experiment,” he said of the status quo. “I don’t know if I’m the guy, but I’m going to sure as hell try.”
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