Dems ready for swing state showdown

Congressional, legislative seats also up for grabs
The Colorado Statesman

If Colorado Democrats didn’t yet realize their importance in the upcoming presidential election, the state party’s top politicos made sure to hammer the point home at Saturday’s state assembly.

Denver Democrat Gail Marcus dons a red, white & blue Obama hat and button at the Democratic State Convention in Pueblo.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

It’s not that state Democrats don’t have a local agenda to worry about — there are two nationally targeted races in the 3rd and 6th Congressional Districts, a five-seat majority in the state Senate, a bevy of competitive state House races, and a statewide challenge to the incumbent CU regent at-large, Democrat Stephen Ludwig — but the crucial role of Colorado in the presidential election has most voters focused on the top of the ticket.

State Reps. Nancy Todd, left, and Rhonda Fields, both of Aurora, participate in the Democratic state assembly held this year in Pueblo.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

Addressing the crowd, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock guaranteed that President Obama would win re-election if he carried Colorado, with the caveat that it would be more of a challenge to win the state in 2012 than it was in 2008, due to a more energized Republican base.

Obama campaign national co-chair John Register shows off his Etch-a-Sketch on stage, where he made an analogy between the classic toy and the Republican Party.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

“They have a target, it’s the White House, and they will use any means necessary to take it back,” Hancock said.

John Register, a Colorado Springs native and national co-chair for the Obama campaign, prepped the crowd for a hard-fought election, telling them that winning Colorado would require a “110 percent effort.”

Valerie Yarbrough, a contract compliance analyst at RTD, and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., look out at the crowd of Democrats assembled at a pre-convention barbeque in Pueblo on Friday night.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

“It’s not going to be easy, we just have to want it more,” Register said. “We have to be willing to fight for it as if our future depends on it, because our future does depend on it.”

The Obama campaign’s political director, Colorado native Katherine Archuleta, told the crowd that with their help, they would be able to grow “the largest grassroots campaign in American history.”

State Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, and Democratic National Committeeman Mannie Rodriguez mix and mingle on April 13 at a barbeque thrown by the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

“Our staff and our volunteers are already starting to go block-by-block, house-by-house, right here in Colorado,” Archuleta said.

District Attorney Bill Thiebaut, a former state senator from Pueblo, dons a donkey tie.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

Archuleta also warned the crowd about presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s impending move back to the center in the general election campaign, telling them it was their responsibility to make sure that didn’t happen.

Mana Jennings, Arapahoe County Commissioner Bill Holen and his wife Debi Holen pose for a picture at a Chamber of Commerce barbeque before the Democratic State Assembly in Pueblo.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

“He’s bringing out that Etch-a-Sketch and he’s hoping he can shake it, but we can’t let him go back to the middle,” Archuleta said. “He chose to stand up for the Tea Party, and that’s where he has to stay.”

Colorado native Katherine Archuleta, the Obama campaign’s political director, tells the crowd that with their help, they would be able to grow “the largest grassroots campaign in American history.”
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

U.S. Rep Diana DeGette, D-CD 1, was the first speaker to shift the focus from national to state-level politics, appealing to the crowd about the need for Democrats to win 25 congressional seats in Washington, D.C.
“I’m happy to be the dean of the delegation, but I want more,” DeGette said. “I want more colleagues in the Colorado delegation.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, left, and Denver Democrat Lew Gaiter, Jr., right, at this year’s state assembly on April 14.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

DeGette then urged Democrats to get out the vote for their congressional candidates: Sal Pace in the 3rd CD, Joe Miklosi in the 6th CD, and CD 4 candidate Brandon Shaffer.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and Mark Carmel, both of Pueblo, survey the political action at this year’s Democratic State Assembly.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

Pace, who currently represents Pueblo in the state House, was the first congressional candidate to address the crowd. He welcomed Democrats to the southern Colorado city with a joke about the venue, which often serves as a host for bull riding events.

Rep. Dan Pabon of northwest Denver watches the assembly proceedings at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo on April 14.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

“Normally, in this hall, there’s a lot of manure on the ground,” Pace said. “And I’m not talking about a GOP assembly, either.”

Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, Reps. Beth McCann of Denver and Rhonda Fields of Aurora, were three of many Democratic legislators who attended this year’s political convention in Pueblo.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

He attacked 3rd CD incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton for supporting the Paul Ryan budget plans, voting against an amendment on an oil shale bill to study the effects of water quality on the Western Slope, and for sponsoring a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood.

El Paso County Democratic Party 2nd Vice Chair Chuck Bader holds party literature as he campaigns for a delegate slot.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

“It is so critically important that we change the priorities of Washington,” Pace said.

State Rep. Miklosi, D-Denver, told the crowd that the 6th CD is “not your grandfather’s 6th Congressional District anymore,” pointing out that the district voted for Obama and Sen. Mark Udall in 2008, as well as Gov. John Hickenlooper and Bennet in 2010.

Rep. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, listens to an array of Democratic speakers at the state assembly in Pueblo.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

The congressional district as it stands today, however, has technically never voted at all, considering that it was newly reconfigured during redistricting in December.

“In 2012, with your help, we will win this district and we will end the Tancredo-Coffman era once and for all,” Miklosi said.

Democratic legislators and other elected officials straddle the stage at the Colorado State Fairgrounds on April 14 in a show of party unity.
Photo by Charles Hale/The Colorado Statesman

Shaffer, who faces an uphill battle for the 4th Congressional District seat currently held by Rep. Cory Gardner, spoke about how he was also an underdog in his first run for state Senate.

“I wasn’t supposed to win in 2004,” Shaffer said. “But we took the message of Colorado solutions to peoples’ front doors, we talked about getting things done, and we overcame the odds.”

Introducing the many candidates for state legislative office, House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, spoke about the crucial five-seat majority Democrats hold in the state Senate.

“In the minority, it has not been fun,” Ferrandino said. “But we’ve had a Senate that’s been able to stop some bad legislation from coming out of the House, and we really owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Ferrandino was confident that the Democrats would take back the majority in the House this year, “and send Speaker McNulty packing.”

Brandy Reitter, president of the Denver Young Democrats, said it was her first time attending a state assembly, and that she was happy to be “where the rubber meets the road.”

Although many political analysts have identified an enthusiasm gap in young voters compared to those in the 2008 election, Reitter disagreed with that assessment. “We just have to re-inspire folks,” she said.

Reitter said the biggest concern young Democrats have expressed to her recently is the state of funding for K-12 and higher education.

State Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said the assembly was a good chance for people to get “retail politic time with their candidates.”

Pabon said that while the Democratic Party is having far less trouble with party unity than the Republicans are currently experiencing, the most controversial issue at the assembly was the spectrum of support for the president.

“People were going into the 2008 election with a lot of optimism, idealism, hope, change,” Pabon said. “I think the disagreement may be about if the president met those expectations, exceeded those expectations, or underperformed.”

Ben@coloradostatesman.com