A 'Top Gun' Gardner hits the mark in CD 4

'Blue Dog' Democrat Markey lost traction on the campaign trail

UPDATED AS OF 11/12/10

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Conservatives reclaimed the 4th Congressional District in electing Republican candidate Cory Gardner and defeating incumbent U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey. Gardner had hammered home a vow to balance the federal budget, cut spending and rebuild the economy to create jobs — a message that resonated with voters.

“Although the campaign has ended, our work is just beginning,” said Gardner in a statement. “Republicans are not going to compromise with our principles this time around. We will not increase taxes or go down the path of earmarks that have symbolized everything wrong in Washington, D.C.”

“It is time for Republicans and Democrats to work together to balance the budget and cut spending,” he said.

Gardner named his campaign manager Chris Hansen as chief of staff, and flew to Washington, D.C. on Monday for a round of briefings. The Congressman-elect and Hansen are now in the process of hiring staff members for the office on Capitol Hill as well as district offices in Colorado. Markey had established offices in Fort Collins, Greeley, Lamar and Sterling.

“My car exploded last night! It’s smoking right now while I’m driving it to an auto repair shop,” said Hansen early Monday morning.

Hansen’s car woes are shared by Gardner — his 2004 Nissan began to sputter in the final campaign lap to court votes in the district that includes the state’s eastern counties and stretches west to include a section of Boulder County.

“What pushed Cory over the top was the fact that his message was more in line with the voters,” said Gardner’s campaign spokeswoman Rachel Boxer.

“We ran an extremely strong campaign,” said Markey’s campaign spokesman Ben Marter, who was in the midst of packing up the headquarters and reviewing voter turnout numbers on Monday afternoon.

“There is nothing we would have done differently. It’s sad to lose a great Congresswoman as Betsy,” said Marter. “It just wasn’t our year.”

Both campaign spokespersons agreed that the election outcome was affected by voter turnout — a number that would have been higher during a presidential election year. The lower mid-term voter turnout favored Gardner.

Markey did not return calls for comment and by Monday morning had disconnected her cell phone.

If the Democrat’s campaign had hoped to contrast Markey as pro-choice versus Gardner as anti-abortion without exceptions — it was like boxing the wind. The Republican candidate ducked social issues during the general election campaign.

Marter accused Gardner of hiding his positions on abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration. The Democratic campaign manager cast Gardner as a clone of former 4th District Republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, who had been defeated by Markey in 2008.

Markey had been the first Democrat elected from the district since 1972, in the wake of the Watergate scandal that rocked the Republican Party.

Marter cited Gardner’s support for the proposed “Personhood Amendment” in 2008 and 2010, a position he had stated at least once during a Republican primary forum. The proposed amendments were soundly defeated by Colorado voters.

In this election season, Gardner’s campaign emerged unscathed after several blunders, such as airing a TV ad that erroneously accused the incumbent Congresswoman of voting for President Barack Obama’s FY 2010 budget — it was a vote by Democratic Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey.

Markey, a “Blue Dog” Democrat, became mired in attacks for her votes for the health care bill, $787 billion stimulus package and cap-and-trade measure, and support for the Employee Free Choice Act that would eliminate secret ballots cast by employees determining whether or not they wanted a union.

“Betsy Markey supported those liberal measures that Cory dubbed ‘the four horsemen’ ... and the election outcome shows that all were rejected by the voters in the district,” said Boxer.

Markey participated in only one debate on Oct. 19 in Loveland and a TV 6 Roundtable on Oct. 21. The debate sponsor, cable-only CBS affiliate NOCO 5, had relented to her insistence that the rules be changed to include American Constitution Party candidate Doug Aden and independent contender Ken “Wasko” Waszkiewicz.

Critics said that Markey had insisted on including the two lesser known challengers in order to diffuse Gardener’s conservative support base. Markey contended that it was for fairness in allowing voters to assess all the candidates.

Some local newspaper editorials had chastised Markey for her silence on the Northern Integrated Supply Project – a proposed water storage plan that is critical to the rural agricultural economy in northwest Colorado. Gardner had vowed to work with federal agencies to ensure the project.

On election night, Gardner, standing next to his wife Jaime who held the couple’s 6-year-old daughter Alyson, declared victory at a campaign celebration at the Embassy Suites hotel in Loveland that drew several hundred supporters.

“Tonight is not a Democrat victory or a Republican victory because, quite frankly, both parties have failed where they needed to succeed,” said Gardner. “Tonight’s victory is shared between all of us who have worked hard for real solutions to get our country back on track creating jobs and economic opportunity for every single one in this country.”

Gardner vowed “to be the hardest working member of Congress you have ever seen.”

The crowd cheered, whistled and applauded repeatedly throughout Gardner’s speech. Minutes earlier, Markey had conceded the race to Gardner in a phone call made from the Marriott Hotel in Fort Collins.

“I just got off the phone a little while ago with Cory Gardner and I wished him the best and I pledged that I would help him with the transition,” Markey told a crestfallen crowd. “I know that he has Colorado’s best interest at heart and I wish him great success in the days to come.”

Markey was defiant in defense of her voting record.

“When I was elected to Congress two years ago, I knew that I could not ignore politics but I also knew that I could not be afraid of it either,” she said.

“The campaign slogans, the TV ads, the endless attacks and the negative rhetoric, the hyperbole of election seasons are like whispers in the wind — they blow away quickly and what is left is what is real,” declared Markey.

“Despite all the heavy winds of the election season, the health care bill was something real,” she said. “This is where I end the discussion about whether the policy of the health care bill was worth the politics of it. It was!”

“We need to be a nation that takes care of sick people because that is what great nations do — period,” said Markey, who lauded her campaign staff and supporters for having run “an awesome campaign.”

Gardner called for unity throughout the district and recognized Markey.

“I want to thank Congresswoman Markey, genuinely thank (her), for her service to our country and to the Fourth Congressional District,” said the Republican winner.

Markey’s campaign had raised more than $3 million compared to Gardner’s nearly $2 million, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission in October — and the race drew nearly $2.7 million in outside money from special interest groups. The final totals won’t be known until the final quarter reports are filed.

In the critical election night poll, Gardner captured 53.1 percent or 129,919 votes and Markey received 40.8 percent or 99,907 votes.

ACP candidate Aden garnered 4.5 percent or 11,240 and independent contender Waszkiewicz received 1.4 percent or 3,546 votes. Neither Aden nor Waszkiewicz reported raising campaign funds, however, Democratic groups spent $341,843 to attack and draw attention to the ACP challenger.

“They were pseudo attack ads designed to pull support for me from Cory. They used this tactic all over the country, but I don’t know how successful they were,” said Aden of Hudson. “I was surprised by the election results and the number of votes I got.”

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com