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Not pumpkins but Democrats at stroke of midnight

Fairytale ending … at least in Colorado

By Leigh E. Rich

Perhaps the T-shirt worn by one return watcher at the downtown Marriott City Center—the election night headquarters of the Colorado Democrats—said it all: “Kiss my” written above a picture of a donkey.

This type of youthful and rebellious vim certainly dominated the atmosphere of the Democratic gathering by the end of the night, even though things weren’t looking so good for the blue team in terms of the office of the president.

With John Kerry lagging behind in both the electoral and popular vote, local Dems had enough reasons to hold high their dumbfounded heads as our predominantly red Rocky Mountain state metamorphosed to blue before their very eyes.

And it wasn’t just Attorney General Ken Salazar’s comfortable win against beer brewer Pete Coors.

“We have got more incredible pieces of news,” Colorado Democratic Party Chair Chris Gates told the hangers-on as the clock was striking 12. “Good news comes in bunches. … I just want to make sure we’re keeping track together.”

And then he ticked off the newly earned triumphs of his ticket.

There is Salazar, Colorado’s next Democratic U.S. senator. There is the reversal of the majority in the Colorado Senate, with Democrats garnering an 18-17 lead. And there is the continuing shift in the majority of the Colorado House, as the donkeys tallied a lead of as much as three—if the HD 23 Gwyn Green-Ramey Johnson race bends in their favor—over the elephants.

“There’s one other huge victory that’s in the offing,” Gates said of the John Salazar-Greg Walcher race for Republican Rep. Scott McInnis’ vacated 3rd CD seat. “John Salazar is two percentage points ahead of Greg Walcher,” Gates explained, hoping but not knowing that by morning another Salazar win would indeed be “a fourth huge victory for us in Colorado.”

Even the diminishing returns in the presidential race didn’t tamp Gates’ elation.

“On the Kerry front, hang in,” he said. “We’re actually ahead in every state (the results are) out. But it is tight, tight, tight. … We’ve just got to keep hope alive.”

That was also the message the crowd heard from vice presidential candidate John Edwards, whose image dominated the Marriott’s television feeds in the first half-hour of the new day.

“We’ve waited four years for this victory. We can wait one more night.”

But victory would not go to the Democrats in the bid for America’s highest office, despite expectations otherwise. And the presidential numbers wouldn’t even turn out to be all that close, with Bush besting Kerry in the electoral vote by 34 and in the popular vote by more than 3.5 million.

Still, Colorado’s Democrats beamed like belles of the ball.

“I know I should be gracious,” Gates told the crowd, but seemed compelled to point out the obvious to his Republican counterparts who watched the returns at a Marriott in the Denver Tech Center.

“Governor Owens invited Pete Coors into the Senate race. Did he lose that one? Governor Owens opposed FasTracks. Did he lose that one?” And with John Salazar edging out Walcher, whom Owens appointed executive director of the Department of Natural Resources in 1999, Gates said, “Governor Owens is batting 0 for 3 this cycle.”

Along with the presidency, however, the Republicans didn’t have to choke down humble pie all evening. Incumbent Reps. Marilyn Musgrave, 4th CD, Joel Hefley, 5th CD, Tom Tancredo, 6th CD, and Bob Beauprez, 7th CD, hung onto their positions in the U.S. House. Only the loss of Jeffco District Attorney Dave Thomas, who ran against Beauprez, came as a surprise to the Democrats. In 2002, Beauprez won the newly created district by a mere 121 votes.

Joanna Conti, a moderate sent to face a “big bad wolf” of a race in Tancredo’s neck of the woods, conceded early in the evening, admitting that—despite running a positive, “issues-focused” campaign and garnering endorsements from The Denver Post and others—“in the end, unfortunately, the numbers in my district were too tough. (We) were unable to pull it off.”

Thomas, John Salazar, Musgrave-contender Stan Matsunaka and Hefley-opponent Fred Hardee watched election results elsewhere.

But the crowd, which had swelled past ballroom capacity at one point in the evening, waited primarily for the Senate returns and their prince in the cowboy hat. Watching results mostly from a hotel suite upstairs, Ken Salazar walked the crowd twice that night—once just after 10 p.m. and then following Coors’ concession.

“Let me just say, the race is not yet over,” Salazar said as his family and campaign staff lingered in the background. “But it’s 10 after 10 and many of you have to work tomorrow. And I have to work tomorrow.”

He then thanked his supporters—knowing that many would leave before the party was over—“from the bottom of my heart … for letting me ride this horse for the last seven months.”

Those who remained witnessed a grateful and gracious senator-elect almost two hours later, who said his opponent “ran a good race and … is a good man. And when people take off their hat and put it in the arena … we need to celebrate them.”

But most of the rejoicing went to the Democratic victors.

Introduced by Gates as “the next president of the Colorado Senate,” state Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, SD 16, simply shouted to the crowd, “How sweet it is!”

And after presenting fellow senators who are “soon to be chairmen of committees in Colorado,” an ecstatic Fitz-Gerald—Colorado’s first female Senate president—said of husband John, “For the first time in Colorado, we’re going to have a first lady who’s a man.”

State Reps. Andrew Romanoff and Alice Madden, showing off their colleagues with whom they now make up the majority, didn’t mince words, either.

“Things are looking pretty good. The truth is, we don’t have enough room on the stage tonight,” Romanoff, HD 6, beamed at the thought of the first Democratic majority in the state House since 1974.

“(That) was also the year,” he explained, “a disgraced Republican president was driven from office. Let’s hope tonight that history repeats itself.”

While Romanoff thanked Salazar for leading “our ticket to victory,” Madden, HD 10, additionally explained the wins in terms of playing offense as well as defense. “We protected our incumbents” and “we put up great moderate candidates in swing districts.”

And everyone seemed intoxicated on the first taste of victory.

“We have a lame duck governor. Poor Bill Owens,” Madden said, before promising to address issues such as the deficit, affordable health care, accessible prescription drugs and quality education in the upcoming session.

“Is there anybody interested in running for the House?” Romanoff asked. “It’s a great place to be now.”

Even state Sen. Deanna Hanna, SD 21, professed “what a pleasure it is to be in the majority once again. … It’s a meat grinder down there and all we have been producing is pure baloney.”

With the Dems in charge, she claimed, the next General Assembly will turn out “high-class sausage.”

But regardless of what the 2005-06 session may hold, Gates’ summation of Election Day will surely ring true for at least the next two years.

“Life has changed as we know it.”

Rich, L. E. (2004, November 12). Fairy tale ending … at least in Colorado: Not pumpkins but Democrats at the stroke of midnight. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 10, 12.

First Place – Government and Political Writing – National Federation of Press Women – July 2005
First Place – Government and Political Writing – Colorado Press Women – May 2005

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