Athlete, Artist, Indian Chief

From dark horse to Nighthorse, it's been one hell of a ride for Ben Campbell.

"The Indian thing is part of Campbell's mystique," complained Dick Wadhams, Considine's campaign manager. "And if this campaign turns on mystique and style, we lose. If it turns on issues and substance, I think we can win."

Campbell's advertising, which stressed his modest upbringing and his American Indian heritage, showed him riding the range on his pinto, his ponytail bouncing at the back of his neck. But beneath the stylish campaign were some substantial flaws.

After Campbell attacked Considine for receiving draft deferments during the Vietnam War, the Rocky Mountain News reported that Campbell's campaign literature falsely claimed he'd been trapped behind enemy lines in Korea for five weeks.

Campbell acknowledged that the information was erroneous. He blamed the mistake on his mother, who had been unable to contact him for five weeks during the war, he said, and assumed he had been captured or lost. That, however, did not explain how the claim ended up in Campbell's campaign literature.

Considine went after Campbell in a series of debates, painting his opponent as a "do-nothing" member of Congress and contending that Campbell had gone on an oil company-funded trip to Alaska when a vote on whether to open up certain regions there to exploration was coming up. In response, Campbell's camp made another blunder. A TV ad for Campbell contended that after he returned from the trip, he voted against the oil company. Unfortunately, the House had yet to vote on the measure.

By the close of the race, Campbell's twenty-point lead had slipped to single digits; he was low on money and was "getting my butt kicked" in debates with the Harvard graduate. That's when he was contacted by Northern Cheyenne leaders, who said his campaign was being hurt by evil spirits. They sent Campbell an eagle feather to wear in the pocket over his heart, and red paints made from earthen materials so that he could place a dot on each palm, over his heart and on top of his head.

"I asked Linda what I should do," Campbell says. "She's Swedish and not really into this Indian thing, but she said, 'What have you got to lose?' So I did what they said."

And he took some heat for it. "Some newspaper columnist made a wiseass remark about me using a 'pagan ritual,' which really made me angry," Campbell says. "Indians believe in God and Jesus; they just have different names. They have amulets, Jews have a Star of David, Christians have the cross. They all use incantations. But because they're Indians, their religion is pooh-poohed.

"Call it coincidence, but the polls began changing within a few days and the money was rolling in."

Perhaps not coincidentally, however, late in the campaign Considine was confronted by the press on the role one of his property-management companies had played in the Silverado banking scandal. And the pro-choice Campbell--with the aid of the National Abortion Rights League--was also hammering at his opponent's anti-abortion stance.

In the end, Campbell won easily.

Campbell's first two years in the Senate were more remarkable for his appearances off the floor--on horseback, on Harleys--than in Congress. Although he sided with Clinton and the Democratic Party line on 80 percent of the votes, he split off often enough--particularly on environmental issues --to be perceived as a maverick.

Then on March 3, 1995, Campbell announced he was changing parties.
"I am doing so with the realization that I can no longer continue to support the Democratic agenda nor the administration's goals, particularly as they deal with public lands and fiscal issues," he said.

"This decision is not being done out of vindictiveness or as an impulsive gesture. I have given this a great deal of thought, particularly during the past thirty days in dealing with the Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA).

"If anything, this debate has brought into focus the fact that my personal beliefs and that of the Democratic Party are far apart. As a co-sponsor of the BBA every term I have been in Congress, I am absolutely convinced at the present rate of growth in both our federal deficit and our national debt that it is only a matter of time until we find ourselves in the same financial collapse that Mexico now faces. The difference will be, no one will bail us out, and our collapse will precipitate the collapse of the economies of the free world. The BBA is not the total answer to our fiscal problems, but at least if it had passed, it would have given Americans the chance to participate in the decisions.

"My change of parties does not mean I will not do my best to continue to represent the interests of individual Democrats, just as I would with any other constituent. I have always been considered a moderate, much to the consternation of the left wing of the Democratic Party. My moderacy will now be to the consternation of the right wing of the Republican Party, because I have no intention of changing my position on WIC, the youth corps, women's choice and many other issues.

"This morning I placed a call to the president, the vice president, the minority leader and the governor of Colorado to notify them of my intentions and to assure them my move was not personal. They were all highly disappointed. I assured them I will continue to support them when I think they are right and oppose them when they are wrong. It is clear, however, that I have not been able to live up to the expectations of the Democratic Party, so it is best to go our separate ways.

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