McInnis Backs Away From Newspaper Report on NRSC Intervention

Posted October 31, 2008 at 3:53pm

Former Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) in a telephone interview Friday afternoon backed off of a claim that he made in the Denver Post earlier this week that National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) pushed him out of this year’s race for Colorado’s open Senate seat.

According to a Denver Post article posted Tuesday evening, McInnis said he did not drop out of the Senate race for personal reasons as he had previously claimed — but rather because Ensign told him that he wanted former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) as the nominee.

But NRSC sources said Friday afternoon that Ensign never pressured McInnis to drop out, which he did in early 2007, just weeks after announcing his candidacy and at least a month before Schaffer announced his. Nor, these sources contend, did Ensign or NRSC officials ever communicate to McInnis that Schaffer was their preferred candidate.

When questioned Friday afternoon about his decision to drop out of the race, McInnis didn’t specifically deny the story as reported by the Denver paper. But he suggested events did not unfold as reported, while confirming many of the details of his departure from the Senate contest that were offered by NRSC sources.

“Prior to Denver Post article, it was water long under the bridge,” McInnis said, while traveling in Colorado on his way to campaign with Schaffer during the final week of the campaign.

Most polls taken of the Senate race project a victory by Rep. Mark Udall (D) over Schaffer.

The Post article had McInnis recalling being told by the NRSC that the committee would campaign “aggressively” for Schaffer, presumably in any Republican primary contest or behind the scenes to push McInnis out of the race.

“My problem was that the head of the Senatorial Republican Committee is Sen. John Ensign of Nevada. John was Bob Schaffer’s former roommate, and John made it very clear up front that their pick was Bob Schaffer,” McInnis told the Post.

But NRSC sources, in addition to disputing this charge, explained further that it was McInnis who chose to drop out of the Senate race after being presented with internal committee polling data suggesting that the former 3rd district Congressman could face an uphill battle in the Senate race.

NRSC sources said McInnis was presented with this polling data during a meeting that took place in Denver in early February 2007. Ensign did not attend the meeting, but NRSC Executive Director Scott Bensing and Political Director Mike Slanker were there, along with other Republican Party officials.

McInnis confirmed the details of the meeting as presented by NRSC sources. His only point of contention was that he believes the polling data was leaked in Colorado as a stealth maneuver to push him out of the race. McInnis suggested this must have been done by Ensign or other NRSC officials.

But when asked, he declined to specifically pin the blame on either. McInnis said that he had a conversation with Ensign about the poll prior to the February 2007 meeting with NRSC officials in Denver but that he cannot recall the specifics of their discussion beyond that.

“The facts [NRSC sources] gave were correct, other than, it was a push poll, and contrary to them telling me they had held it in-house, they released it,” McInnis said. “So immediately I started getting calls saying these numbers are terrible and you need to step aside.”

In the February 2007 meeting, McInnis was presented with information from a Jan. 28-29, 2007, poll showing that 66 percent of voters would be “less likely” to vote for him for Senate if they knew that he had paid his wife “tens of thousands of dollars in salary and benefits out of his Congressional campaign account, even after he announced he would not seek another term.”

McInnis retired from the 3rd district in 2004 and now works as an attorney for Hogan & Hartson in Denver.

According to NRSC sources, McInnis asked during the February 2007 meeting in Denver how damaging the issue of his wife being paid with campaign funds would be to his Senate bid. According to multiple press reports, McInnis’ wife was paid around $40,000 in salary and benefits out of the then-Congressman’s House campaign account after he announced his intention to retire.

This is not illegal but is often viewed as unseemly and politically toxic.

Republican strategists told McInnis that this could be tough political challenge to overcome, and after that, the former Congressman decided on his own — before the meeting ended — that he would abort his Senate bid, according to NRSC sources.

“He even asked for advice as to how to get out of the race,” according to one NRSC source.

McInnis, in his interview with Roll Call, declined to specifically refute this version of events and seemed at least somewhat concerned that the story was a distraction from Tuesday’s election.

Republicans, who continue to struggle to regain anything resembling their former dominance in the Centennial State, appear headed to losses not only in the Senate race, but also in the solidly conservative 4th district — not to mention the White House.

McInnis has indicated that he might be interested in running for office again in 2010, possibly for Senate or governor.

“My concern is the future and trying to win some of these seats,” he said.