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Insert Comma • A Portfolio of Leigh E. Rich
How the West is won

Dems court Colorado on heels of GOP pursuit

By Leigh E. Rich

Stumping from the very spot as Dick Cheney three weeks earlier, America’s other vice presidential candidate wooed Colorado voters in a town hall-style gathering last Thursday at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

Last week’s stopover was John Edwards’ third visit to Colorado in the past five weeks, sandwiching recent Republican campaign bids in the Centennial state that have featured Cheney, First Lady Laura Bush and presidential nephew George P. Bush.

If it seems as though Colorado has become a political target, these frequent engagements by the major suitors of both parties leave little room for doubt.

And it’s no wonder. Recent polls show Coloradans almost equally split between the top two choices for America’s next president. The state’s 47-47 percent tie, reported in mid-August by New York-based pollsters SurveyUSA using a random sample of 622 likely voters, serves as a reminder that Colorado has yet to decide which presidential proposal to accept.

Democratic and Republican efforts in the state have been matched practically tit-for-tat ever since Edwards and running mate John Kerry officially launched their pursuit of the White House in Denver in July. Kerry and Edwards also routed their campaign bus through Colorado’s southern city of La Junta in early August, just after Cheney’s visit.

And Edwards’ recent question-and-answer session that focused mainly on health care issues on Women’s Equality Day came at the heels of Laura Bush’s tour of a Lakewood-based, woman-owned business on the 84th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.

Even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California dropped by last Friday—on her whirlwind tour courting the Rocky Mountain West—and stumped for Democratic candidates for Colorado’s seven congressional districts. If the Democrats can take back the House in this election, Pelosi will become the first female Speaker of the House in U.S. history. She is only 12 seats away from breaking through the congressional glass ceiling.

With so many crème de la crème politicos lingering on Colorado’s doorstep with campaign flowers in hand, two facts are unequivocal in this polarized 2004 election: Both parties are vying for the attention of the 22 million single American women who failed to show up for the last presidential election, and both are trying to turn Colorado’s nine electoral votes into shades of either red or blue.

Colorado could cast a mix of red and blue votes in the topmost election of the land, depending on how citizens respond to Amendment 36, an initiative that would replace the current winner-take-all system and proportionately break up the state’s electoral votes according to the popular vote. If passed, the amendment would take immediate effect.

But both Republican and Democratic candidates hanging around the state these days seem to be going after them all, with the former fearful and the latter hopeful of a Colorado political change of heart.

Rounding up Colorado’s congressional districts

It is important to remember, Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Chris Gates said while waiting for Pelosi to arrive at the party’s headquarters last week, “that this is a state people characterized two years ago, in the parlance of the day, as a ‘deep-red’ state … a state George Bush would get comfortably reelected in.”

That’s no longer the case, most everyone agrees. And with Republicans Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Rep. Scott McInnis of the 3rd CD both vacating their coveted seats, “the landscape has changed unbelievably” in the legislative branch as well, Gates said. “Colorado is very much in play as a battleground state.”

Both Gates and Pelosi, whose convoy was delayed Colorado-style on the Boulder Turnpike amidst construction and afternoon showers, are convinced the Democrats will successfully commandeer the Republican-held seats in the 3rd and the 7th CDs.

Rep. Bob Beauprez, who barely savored the taste of victory in 2002 by 121 votes, is facing Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas’ bid in the 7th CD.

And John Salazar, brother to Senate candidate and Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, will go up against Greg Walcher, the official victor in the Republicans’ five-way primary race, in the 3rd CD.

Dismissing Beauprez as a freshman hardcore conservative “whose first term has been marked by anonymity,” Gates is just as confident in a Democratic takeover of the 3rd CD.

It’s not likely, however, the Dems will be able to shake Rep. Marilyn Musgrave from her roots in the 4th CD, though Democratic candidate Stan Matsunaka and Green candidate Bob Kinsey are looking to replace the proponent of a national Federal Marriage Amendment.

“People had no idea how far to the right she was,” Gates said, condemning both Musgrave and Beauprez for campaigning on moderate platforms but voting as extreme Bush conservatives when in Washington, D.C.

“It is shameful that any woman—any women—elected to … public office would do as Marilyn Musgrave has done,” Rep. Diana DeGette of the 1st CD reprimanded during her opening remarks of the Edwards visit last Thursday.

Gates admitted that DeGette’s and Rep. Mark Udall’s reelection campaigns don’t even register as concerns for the Democratic Party. DeGette is being challenged in the November election by Republican businessman Roland Chicas, while Udall contends with lay minister Stephen Hackman in the 2nd CD.

Though deeming Joanna Conti’s bid for Rep. Tom Tancredo’s 6th CD seat “an uphill fight,” Gates was critical of the Republican who “is so far to the right, he’s not welcome in the Bush White House.”

Tancredo, known for his extreme views on immigration issues, is “one more faux pas away” from being a former member of Congress, Gates said.

Another Democratic lost cause is Fred Hardee’s campaign for Rep. Joel Hefley’s position in the 5th CD.

Gunfight at the Jeffco corral

But Pelosi says she and the Democrats are “not into landslides,” instead focusing on the “12-2-1” tally the party needs nationally to secure majorities in the House, the Senate and the White House, respectively.

“She is absolutely convinced we can get two, if not three, if not four, of those pickups here in Colorado,” Gates said.

To begin, a concentrated effort by the Democrats will be invested in the 7th CD race—a suburban district that offers a nearly equal three-way split among Republicans, Democrats and independents. A new district created because of the state’s increased numbers in the 2000 census, Beauprez’s standing in the 7th is anything but stable.

And both parties know it. Gates said that the Democrats will be “pouring significant amounts of resources” into Thomas’ campaign and admitted that in 2002 they “were beat on the ground” by the Republicans’ field efforts.

“We’re not going to let that happen this time,” he promised, noting the Dems will focus both on mechanics and message to unseat Beauprez.

During her Colorado stopover that centered on the 7th CD, Pelosi also stumped for Salazar and Matsunaka and had lunch with Udall.

“Her trip here is really a statement to how seriously they take Colorado,” Gates said of the national Democrats. “She’s very committed to helping us do what we need to do.”

Edwards’ third trip to the state is also testament to Colorado’s worth in the 2004 election. Whether the Democrats can turn the state from red to “red, white and blue,” Pelosi said, borrowing a phrase from John Kerry, remains to be seen. But the statewide breakdown of Republican, Democrat and independent voters that mirrors that of the 7th CD keeps Colorado on the presidential radar.

“When you’re a third, a third, a third,” Gates explained, “you hold your base (with registered party members) and then you reach out (to the unaffiliated).”

That’s exactly what Edwards intended to do during his Jeffco appearance. Speaking briefly about women’s issues, a patients’ bill of rights, the cost of prescription medication, stem cell research, closing tax and corporate loopholes, and the deficit, Edwards took questions from the audience, encouraging any Republicans, independents or undecided voters in attendance to throw him some hardballs.

One older gentleman who identified himself as a veteran told the candidate: “I’m here because George Bush scares the bejesus out of me.”

Edwards laughed. “You’re not one of those undecided voters,” he rhetorically said.

It seemed most of last Thursday’s attendees—about 2,200 in all—also are already members of the Democratic choir. But some did challenge the former trial lawyer, lobbing questions that included holding doctors accountable for medical malpractice and alleviating America’s nursing shortage.

Admitting that the crowd might not like his answer, Edwards said that, though accountability needs to remain in place, there are some health care providers “who are truly being squeezed” and the current system makes it harder to guarantee care in underserved areas.

Still, “we don’t want to take away the rights of a child who’s been hurt for life,” he said.

Instead, the Kerry-Edwards team suggests pooling catastrophic health care costs and placing more responsibility on the shoulders of lawyers to deem whether a malpractice case is worthy for trial.

“Then hold the lawyer accountable financially,” Edwards told the group. “Not the client—the lawyer.”

As for the nursing shortage that Edwards deemed near “crisis” levels, “we should stop mandatory overtime for nurses” and offer financial aid to nursing students and those willing to work in underserved populations.

Edwards was most vocal, however, on the United States’ reliance on Middle East oil.

“It’s bad for our economy. It’s bad for our national security. It’s bad for our environment.”

He fielded other questions about the recent attack ads aimed at Kerry, social security, the deficit, gay marriage and the war in Iraq.

“When they are after you, you have to fight back,” he said of the national advertisements questioning Kerry’s Vietnam record, though he promised “we don’t want to get sucked into the mud and the ditch with them.”

He deemed social security money “real” and stated that Bush’s tax cuts can only be financed “on the back of social security.”

He also took a potshot at Cheney’s recent change of heart about homosexual unions.

“Somebody forgot to tell him what he’s supposed to say, I guess,” Edwards said, though stopping short himself from explicitly supporting legal marriage between same-sex partners. “John and I are for partnership benefits. … We will fight for that.”

But it took most of Edwards’ visit for a Coloradan to ask about Iraq.

“We actually have a plan,” he said, explaining how he and Kerry would involve NATO and other nations in the process to rebuild Saddam Hussein’s former country. Edwards called this international effort “hugely important to relieve the burden on our troops … and the American taxpayer.”

With one last dig at the current vice president, Edwards said he and Kerry would make sure “reconstruction in Iraq is not limited to Halliburton.”

Still, Edwards spoke mainly of the Democratic platform while stumping in Colorado, refraining from the more direct criticisms Republicans have lobbed at Kerry during their national convention this week.

Pelosi says the Democrats offer “a very positive, optimistic view of where our country should be going. … Of course, we have to win to do that.

“The Rocky Mountain West will be a critical part of our success,” she said.

Rich, L. E. (2004, September 3). How the West is won: Sen. John Edwards holds town-hall meeting while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stakes a claim on Colorado’s 3rd and 7th CDs. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 6, 11–12..

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