Once a Democrat, Durango candidate looks to GOP

DENVER – In politics, there are long shots and dark horses.

And then there’s Jaime McMillan.

The Durango businessman recently was a registered Democrat and ran as an unaffiliated candidate against U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, in 2012. His platform put him to the left of the Democratic candidate, Sal Pace.

Now he’s aiming for U.S. Senate.

As a Republican.

But McMillan didn’t undergo a conversion to conservative politics. Instead, he’s hoping a libertarian message will help him attract Republican voters who want the party to steer away from its powerful right wing.

“I look at the party now as undergoing a change. I really think it’s trying to get back to its roots as the party of Lincoln, the party of opportunity,” McMillan said.

He’s a minor candidate in a crowded field that includes two state senators – Owen Hill and Randy Baumgardner – state Rep. Amy Stephens, and the party’s 2010 Senate nominee, Ken Buck.

In 2012, McMillan tried running for the state House seat from Durango, but he pulled out of that race to run for U.S. Congress.

He ran on a 10-point “America First” platform that included several un-Republican points, including a government-funded health care choice for everyone, similar to Medicare; legal recognition of same-sex relationships; a Constitutional ban on corporate political donations; repeal of national marijuana prohibition laws; deferment of all student loan payments; and a new $1 trillion stimulus package.

His 2014 platform has some of the same elements, although he has dropped his emphasis on Medicare for all, a new stimulus bill and student loan deferment.

But he’s still pushing for immigration reform, which the Republican-controlled House refused to take up after it passed the Senate, and a repeal of the federal anti-gay marriage law.

And he makes no secret of his support for abortion rights.

“Although I respect those who do not agree with me, I will not support federal law that seeks to deny a woman the right to choose,” McMillan wrote on his website, www.mcmillanforcolorado.com.

Despite holding positions well to the left of most Republicans, he hopes a shared respect for civil liberties will help him appeal to his new party. Like a few national Republican candidates, he wants fewer U.S. military confrontations abroad.

“Moderation is really an act of courage. It’s easier to be polarized than to work with someone on the other side,” he said.

He’ll need courage to execute his campaign strategy.

Candidates can get onto the ballot for the June 24 primary in two ways. They can either get petition signatures from registered Republicans, or they can face the party’s hard-core activists in the precinct caucuses and county and state assemblies.

McMillan isn’t taking the easy way. He said he intends to convert grassroots activists at the precinct caucuses, which are on March 4.

He will concentrate on winning votes from women and minority Republicans. Buck, the 2010 candidate, lost because U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet won many more votes from suburban women, McMillan said.

McMillan has moved to Denver temporarily to give him better access to the state’s largest concentration of voters.

“Of course, Durango’s my real home,” he said.

McMillan served in the Marines and worked for Charles Schwab for more than 20 years before he started his own business as a financial adviser. He is divorced and the father of two boys.