The Message

Are You Positive?

Of course, a Coors-approved ad chiding his adversary for the early release of 71 sex offenders, even though Salazar fought against doing so in court, seems more like offense than defense -- but not in Watson's mind. The ad isn't negative, and it's entirely justifiable because, she says, "It's fair to draw strong contrasts between the two candidates."

Joanna Conti, a Democrat bidding to represent the 6th Congressional District, attempts to do likewise in a simple but effective commercial that introduces her to the public even as it takes a shot at the amount of energy the district's incumbent, Tom Tancredo, pours into immigration reform. Conti campaign manager Sean Bertram says the look of the ad is key. "We need people to understand that the campaign has a real shot at removing a single-issue, myopically focused candidate," he says.

Tancredo's people don't seem overly concerned, probably because their man is seeking re-election in what's widely considered to be the safest Republican district in the state. Many major candidates and backers of numerous ballot issues have turned to nationally recognized out-of-state players like Strother Duffy Strother, the Washington, D.C., firm that put together Conti's ad, to give their advertisements a professional sheen. In contrast, the pro-Tancredo spots are amusingly primitive; one of them features a family photo and the sort of graphics common to car-dealership commercials of the '80s. Dave Pearson, Tancredo's campaign manager, says the ads were put together by "local people" he doesn't name. If they're students in a high school audio-visual program, they did a fine job. If not, they at least worked cheap. According to Pearson, "We're fiscally conservative."

Regardless, Pearson went to the expense of consulting a lawyer after the release of a radio commercial put out by Coloradans for Plain Talk (CFPT), a private group known as Colorado Families First until earlier this month; it was being confused with Families First Colorado, a nonprofit that works with abused children. In the ad, a woman identified as "Nora Evans" of Greenwood Village is heard listing numerous controversies that Tancredo has stirred over the years: "You attacked an honor-roll student for pursuing the dream of a college education just because his family wasn't born in America," and so on. Pearson says the ad's content is as bogus as the person making the claims. After some investigation, he found record of a Nora Evans who lived in Aurora about six years ago (she's now in Wisconsin), but no one by that name who's ever resided in Greenwood Village.

CFPT, whose major donors include recent Westword cover-boy Jared Polis (his office didn't return two calls for comment), has a flair for dramatic interpretations. The outfit financed two commercials in which an actress in a pink suit portrayed Representative Marilyn Musgrave, a Republican pursuing re-election in the 4th Congressional District. In one, the Musgrave surrogate is seen robbing a corpse in an open casket to illustrate her opposition to legislation that would have prevented nursing homes from assessing charges against dead people.

Okay, that's gotta be negative, right? CFPT spokesman Tim Knaus doesn't use the word, but he comes closer than his peers when describing the ads as "very provocative and very satirical." He acknowledges that the goal of the commercials was to undermine support for Musgrave despite the district's heavily Republican cast; the 4th isn't quite as conservative as the 6th, but close. Still, Knaus is sure that negativity alone won't be enough to win an upset for Democrat Stan Matsunaka. "We can bring her down from a 60 percent vote to 50 percent," he says, "but it's equally important to get his positives up."

Federal election rules forbid CFPT from communicating with Matsunaka's campaign, and Matsunaka spokesman Ed Graham confirms that there's been no contact between the outfits. "Some people assume it's a wink-wink arrangement, but it's really not that way," he says. Graham claims to not even have seen the pink-suit ads because he's been too busy trying to complete Matsunaka's own commercials -- and the delay has hurt. In recent weeks, the airwaves have been full of Matsunaka-bashing, courtesy of the Republican Party and Musgrave's campaign, whose allegedly humorous spot linking her opponent to a perpetually screaming Howard Dean is borderline incomprehensible. Musgrave representatives didn't reply to numerous interview requests.

Amid all the televised sourness, a few campaign commercials actually take the high road, notably a smooth and sophisticated ad in favor of the FasTracks rail-expansion measure that features a strangely unbilled Mayor John Hickenlooper. If current polling is to be believed, the spot appears to be working, and David Kenney, whose local agency had a big role in putting it together, thinks he knows why. "This year, there's frankly been a lot of obnoxious election advertising," he says. "The challenge is to break through, and we thought we could do that by being smart and subtle, not by being louder and more obnoxious."

Isn't that looking at the situation a bitŠnegatively?

One more look at the Mirror: Earlier this month, a settlement was reached in a lawsuit pitting the University of Northern Colorado against three members of the Mirror, UNC's student newspaper. The fledgling journalists, led by editor Heath Urie, argued that the school's Board of Trustees cut the paper's funding on the recommendation of a group, the Student Representative Council, that was intent on punishing the Mirror for tough but fair coverage -- the subject of a previous suit.

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