Athlete, Artist, Indian Chief

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

If Campbell isn't particularly good at administration or lawmaking, what's his specialty? "Passion," replies Lane. "If he's involved with something, he comes at you from the heart, and that's a hard thing to resist. I'd be lying if I told you that even now I can't totally dismiss my admiration for Ben."

Devendorf is one of the staffers who survived the switch. In 1991 Lane had hired him to run Campbell's Pueblo office; three years later he was promoted to director of constituent services for the state. His loyalty to Campbell hasn't missed a beat.

"It wasn't like I agreed with him 100 percent of the time, anyway," Devendorf says. "Maybe 85 percent, but he was always willing to listen the other 15 percent of the time.

"My family was pretty non-political, and I was a moderate. So I was working for the man, not the party. I fully understand those for whom it was a big deal; it was heart-wrenching to see them go. Many of them were no less committed to Ben, but they felt that the 'Democratic senator' label was important."

Devendorf changed his own affiliation from Democrat to Republican a year after Campbell made the switch. "Not because he asked me to, but because I came to agree with him," Devendorf says. "He told me the main issue with him was concern about the deficit and what was going to happen if we didn't deal with it. He just thought that the Republicans were the only ones willing to face it."

In retrospect, Devendorf says, it wasn't too hard to see that change was in the offing. "I can't tell you the number of times I heard him say it would be much easier to be a Republican to vote his conscience," he says. "At the time, I just thought it was the boss talking after a long, hard day. But then I think he got tired of the arm-twisting.

"He told me a while after the change that when he was young and more liberal, he found that he sided with the Democrats a little more often than Republicans, and that's why he was a Democrat. But as he got older, he found that he was siding with the Republicans a little more often, especially on fiscal issues...Maybe I'm getting a little older too, because I found myself agreeing with him."

James Doyle, too, stayed on. The former Campbell volunteer had been working at a newspaper in Loveland when he noticed a story about the district director at the senator's Fort Collins office resigning. A native of Pennsylvania who'd come to Colorado to study journalism at the university in Boulder, Doyle was ready to try something new.

"I had three kids, and it's hard to make a living as a journalist on a small newspaper," he says. He applied for the job and got it.

As a reporter, Doyle was very familiar with the state's politicians, and he was intrigued by Campbell's unique blend of identities: Indian, biker, rancher, jewelry maker. "He was the only politician I could have considered working for," Doyle says. "And I was surprised to find that my perception of him was pretty close to reality. What you see is the real Ben Campbell, the sum total of all his experiences, which is what made him a fiscal conservative but a social moderate."

When staff members disagree with his stances, Doyle says, Campbell is always willing to listen to their arguments. "He's got an open mind and can be persuaded," he adds. "But in the end, Ben Campbell does what he thinks is right."

Doyle, raised by Irish-Catholic parents who were lifelong Democrats, considers himself independent-minded; although he was registered as a Democrat, he'd never felt obligated to vote a straight party ticket. And he didn't feel compelled to quit when Campbell switched parties.

Doyle believes a major reason for the split--besides Campbell's support for the Balanced Budget Amendment--was a lack of support from leaders of Colorado's Democratic Party. When Campbell was running against Lamm and Heath in the primary, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb endorsed Lamm. (Campbell returned the favor by endorsing John Frew, the current president of Colorado Ski Country, when Webb was running for re-election in 1995.)

"Ben split the vote between Lamm and Heath, and that's why he won," Doyle says. "The party wanted Lamm, and they've never forgiven Ben." And not only did Campbell beat Lamm, but he went on to win the election without the unqualified support of his party. "He would have never been elected if all he appealed to were Democrats outside of Denver and Boulder," Doyle says. "He got the crossover vote and the independent moderates. His life experiences were the sort that everyday Coloradans could relate to."

Less everyday Coloradans apparently had more trouble. "It's funny," Doyle says, "but the party that espouses inclusiveness was never fully able to embrace someone who spent his childhood in an orphanage, who was a common laborer, a member of an ethnic minority, someone who grew up poor."

The point was driven home two years ago, Doyle says, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. President Clinton was holding a rally at the Denver Civic Center; Governor Roy Romer, Webb and Campbell were all there. "But Ben was clearly the outsider," Doyle recalls. The dignitaries had been invited to lunch at the governor's mansion; when Doyle went to pick up his boss, Campbell had already left, after feeling slighted by the others.

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