The word "disarray" has been applied to the Democrats so often of late that it is now almost a permanent appendage. But here in Colorado, the Republicans have been trying to attach it to themselves.
With the wounds from a bitter 1980 Senate primary fight unhealed and popular Democratic Gov. Dick Lamm the opponent in next November's election, some Colorado Republicans settled last fall on what they thought was a perfect scheme for recapturing the governorship.
It was to coalesce quickly behind one candidate, attempt to have him annointed as the party nominee to avoid a divisive primary and then concentrate on Lamm.
But the plan backfired, and Colorado has been treated to a Keystone Kops production of missteps, mistakes, charges and countercharges that has left the Democrats laughing and GOP regulars moaning.
"It's hurt us a helluva lot," says one top Republican. "We've had a particularly bad case. The only good news is that it happened in March."
The protagonist in this drama is Phil Winn, a wealthy real estate developer, former state GOP chairman, and, at the time the story began to unfold, a federal housing official in the Reagan administration.
A year ahead of the election, he was the favorite of several powerful Colorado Republicans: Joseph Coors, the wealthy and conservative beer maker; John Fuller, the party's finance chairman, and Natalie Meyer, considered one of the state's best political organizers.
Fuller and Meyer became Winn's campaign chairman and campaign manager respectively, and attempted to manufacture the appearance of momentum behind him, promising to spend an astronomical $2 million in their effort.
But momentum was elusive.
Speaking to Colorado reporters in January after submitting his resignation--effective in March--to President Reagan, Winn declared himself a supporter of Reagan's New Federalism program and remarked that Colorado might have to raise taxes to pay for the programs it would receive. Back home, Colorado Republicans began running for cover.
At a press conference announcing his candidacy in Denver, Winn was asked for specific examples to support his charge that Lamm had mismanaged the state government. He replied that he couldn't because he did not really understand the system of state government. By that afternoon, the capitol was buzzing with comments about a GOP bonehead candidate.
Later, after conservative Republicans in the state House had blocked the creation of a state holiday honoring the late Martin Luther King Jr., Winn's campaign office put out a press release saying the candidate supported such a holiday.
Conservatives believed the release was the work of Meyer, and it is not clear that Winn saw it before it was issued. Republican legislators bitterly attacked Winn's campaign, and one key conservative announced he would no longer support Winn. Within days, Meyer resigned as campaign manager.
During this time, it also came out that Winn had contributed to a Democratic congressional candidate in 1978, that years ago he filed for bankruptcy, and that at the time he had run up $1,200 in gambling losses in Las Vegas.
As Democrats joked that Winn's campaign had peaked a year before the election, nervous Republicans began to look around for other candidates.
Hal Shroyer, a GOP county chairman, appeared on the scene.
In 1980, it was Shroyer whose relentless effort to keep Secretary of State Mary Estill Buchanan off the Republican Senate primary ballot gave Buchanan enough publicity so that she upset the favored Howard H. (Bo) Callaway, a former Georgia congressman and Army secretary who is now Colorado Republican chairman. Buchanan was defeated by the Democratic Sen. Gary Hart.
Shroyer, who lost a bid for the state GOP chairmanship to Winn in 1979, has lately said he cannot support Winn for governor because Winn lied to him on numerous occasions.
Winn denies the charge. Rather than shrug off Shroyer's blasts, John Fuller, now Winn's campaign manager and chairman, has fired back, charging Shroyer with "malicious harassment" of Winn, and calling on the party to censure him, a move that seems unlikely.
"There's not really a feud going on among Republicans," Fuller said last week. "There's only one Republican who wants to discredit Mr. Winn."
Now Winn, finally back from Washington full time, is trying to recover. In recent days he has regained the endorsement of one key conservative legislator, added the support of a powerful statehouse lobbyist who had been wavering, and received word that former Colorado representative Jim Johnson, whose candidacy Shroyer was promoting, has decided not to get into the contest.
His main opposition at this point is from former Colorado House speaker John Fuhr, although state Senate President Fred Anderson may pose a challenge.
Despite the blunders, Winn is trying to laugh at himself. At a recent political dinner, he told the audience: "Please excuse my limping, but my wounds are just healing. As you all know, I've been shooting myself in the leg continuously, but I'm walking a little better now."