Top Six Tricks and Treats of the Colorado Campaign Season
Bob Beauprez's scare-tactic ad, round two.
This has been a tricky election year, with bogeymen from outside Colorado pouring tens of millions of dollars into a grab bag of candy-coated campaign gimmicks. A week from now, it will all be over but for the shouting...and the indigestion. In the meantime, here are the top six tricks and treats of this very scary season -- starting with a doozy from Bob Booprez.
6. Crime Doesn't Pay
Bob Beauprez wants you to think that he's tough on crime. But he's even tougher on crime victims.
Last week, the Beauprez campaign released what was a new low in a season of ads that have been doing the limbo to prove who can get the most down and dirty. It started with the sound of chirping crickets outside a home at night, cited the murders of Colorado Department of Corrections chief Tom Clements and pizza delivery driver Nathan Leon by Evan Ebel, and ended with this line: "With John Hickenlooper as governor, is your family safe?" Lisa Clements made an immediate public appeal for Beauprez to stop using her husband's death as part of his political campaign and shared the letter she'd written to the Republican challenger: "On several occasions this year, you have attempted to use our family's tragic loss for your personal and political gain, and we are respectfully asking you to stop." The ad was subsequently edited to remove Clements's name, but as Beauprez faced off against Hickenlooper during the Channel 4/Colorado Public Television debate last Friday, he seemed unrepentant. "I think public safety ought to be part of the political debate," he said.
And he certainly made it part of the debate back in 2006, when two-term congressman Beauprez ran for governor against Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter with another series of ads designed to convince voters he was tough on crime...and crime victims. That September, the Beauprez campaign promised that it would soon open up the Bill Ritter Cold Case File, to show where the Democratic prosecutor had fallen short. The Colorado Republican Party took the first swing, sending out a release that accused Ritter of allowing seven-time loser Ramon Romero to get back on the streets in 2004, when the drunk driver crashed into a car driven by Sonja DeVries, killing the only child of Carolyn and Van DeVries. Yes, it was Romero's eighth offense for driving under the influence. However, the loopholes that allowed him to evade prison had been created by the legislature, not Ritter.
But that sad reality didn't stop Colorado Republicans from getting tough on this crime story. Didn't stop Beauprez's party from trading off the tragedy of Carolyn and Van DeVries, who'd actually appreciated the care with which the Denver DA's office had handled their case and were never even contacted to see if they wanted their dead daughter to be used as a political pawn.
Soon another anti-Ritter hit piece appeared that featured September Dixon, whose young daughter had been killed in a hit-and-run (that case had been the basis of a Westword cover story); this ad, too, misrepresented the Denver DA's role. In the subsequent outcry, the 2006 Beauprez campaign quietly put its plans for releasing the Bill Ritter Cold Case File on ice.
After beating Beauprez by seventeen points in 2006, Ritter declined to run for a second term as governor, leaving the way clear for Hickenlooper to enter a race that looks like a Sunday-picnic potato-sack challenge compared to this year's multimillion-dollar wreck. While he's been watching this year's election antics from his current post at the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, Ritter had forgotten about those attack ads until the most recent Beauprez bumble brought it all back. "Must be post-traumatic stress," he says. "That criminal-justice stuff, it worked where Willie Horton was concerned -- but it has as much a chance of backfiring as actually working." While voters do want their politicians to be tough on crime, he adds, "it's a pretty complicated issue to dive into...it's never a straight line. People are sophisticated enough to figure that out. Voters aren't taken in by that stuff."
And how did Ritter respond to pro-Beauprez ads attacking the longtime DA as soft on crime? "We made a commercial at a wind farm," recalls the former governor, who's now focusing on the new energy economy at CSU. And these days, of course, just about every candidate is using giant turbines as props.
Hickenlooper doesn't need props: He had thirteen federally declared natural disasters to use as background when he made an ad recapping his work as governor. The Clements murder, following the early release of Evan Ebel due to a clerical error made when Hickenlooper was still mayor, was a disaster of entirely different, personal proportions. Asked about Beauprez's "Is your family safe?" ad at that same CBS4 debate, Hickenlooper responded: "Tom Clements was an exemplary public servant and a close friend...I'm still dumbfounded."
Aren't we all? By the time Beauprez decided to take his tough-on-crime (and crime victims) tactic out of the deep-freeze after eight years, it stunk to high heaven and was reason to be afraid, very afraid...of Bob Booprez's judgment, not the current governor's handling of crime.
The Beauprez campaign did score with one gimmick, though, taking Hickenlooper's response to a question at another debate -- this one about the Affordable Care Act -- and turning it into a "slightly rhythmic, somewhat alarming" downloadable Hick-pocrisy ring tone: "No, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait wait! Hold on, hold on!"
4. Rocky Mountain Heist Hype
In touting Colorado colleague Michelle Malkin's work on Rocky Mountain Heist, essentially an hour-long infomercial on the awfulness of this state's progressives, Fox News's Megyn Kelly went above and beyond the crackpot cause when she suggested that a new voting law invited fraud by allowing pretty much anyone to create their own legal ballots. "It was roughly sixteen months ago when the Democratic governor of Colorado signed a first-of-its-kind new election law -- a set of laws that literally allows residents to print ballots from their home computers, then encourages them to turn ballots over to 'collectors' [here she offered well-manicured air quotes] in what appears to be an effort to do away with traditional polling places. What could go wrong?"
This report, for starters, since it simply wasn't true -- and was debunked by none other than Secretary of State (and former Republican gubernatorial candidate) Scott Gessler, who's always on the alert for actual (or imagined) voter fraud. The only people who can print out ballots, Gessler points out, are those serving in the military overseas -- and that practice predates Colorado's new election law.
Fox finally corrected the report this week -- after being soundly mocked by Rachel Maddow.
John Hickenlooper kept his promise to run only positive ads (although there was no shortage of negative ads attacking Beauprez funded by outside groups). While none of Hickenlooper's official ads had the breakthrough hilarity of his first mayoral-campaign commercials, they provided rare high points for those brave enough to turn on their televisions. One of the best was reserved for the web, though:Rocky Mountain Height
, written by and starring comedian (and formerWestword
staffer) Adam Cayton-Holland, who had the governor execute a number of height-requiring tasks, including taking on a crew of neighborhood kids in a basketball game: "Your biggest asset to me is you're tall," he told Hickenlooper. "So let's go out there and destroy these little dudes."
2. Who Needs Ebola When We Have...Racino!
Millions of dollars have been thrown at Amendment 68, the crazed concept of allowing limited-stakes gambling at racetracks in three counties, only one of which -- Arapahoe -- actually has a racetrack. But at least as they emptied the anti-campaign coffers, 68's opponents resurrected a priceless, East Coast racing term that sounded slightly toxic and definitely suspect:
Racino!1. Now Shut Your Trap...
The best thing about Glendale mayor Mike Dunafon's quixotic campaign for governor has been his rap with Wyclef Jean, "The Trap," a collaboration cooked up back on 4/20, before the state spent almost $2 million on its silly, now-invisible "Don't Be a Lab Rat" promotion schooling kids on the hazards of pot.
The only treat more entertaining than imagining a Dunafon governorship is contemplating what it would be like to have Debbie Matthews, his Shotgun Willie's-owning wife, as the first lady.
Trick or treat!
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