Is This Muslim Republican Mr. Right or the Big Cheese?

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"My husband and I wrote [Ali] an e-mail and said, 'You need to strongly consider this,'" says Heather Lemon, a Vail broker and prominent Eagle County Republican. She told him he'd have a lot of support. "I don't know what the farmers in Senate District 8 think of him. If they know him, it's one thing. If they don't, they'll say, 'Who's this?' In House District 56, people are more open-minded and curious," she says.

Ali had thought about the advice, but he just couldn't let go of his interest in the more prestigious Senate seat. He sat down at the main table, placed his monogrammed leather notebook in front of him, and watched as older men and women began to trickle into the restaurant's conference room and seat themselves on red upholstered chairs. After a few moments, White stepped into the room, and Ali jumped up.

"I didn't mean to give you such harsh commentary in the Vail Daily," he laughed awkwardly, referring to a recent article in which he called White the "Western Slope exploiter" and himself the "Western Slope warrior." "I know you are a good guy."

White sat down at the head of the table and nodded icily, his eyes focused on the center of the room.

After a brief introduction, Ali — to his surprise — was invited to speak. "The last thing I want to do is represent people if they don't want me to," he began, standing. "The reason I would entertain a run for District 8 is that there are differences between me and Al White." Ali ran through them quickly: White wants to give oil revenue to the Front Range, not the Western Slope; White supported a Denver effort to take water from the Western Slope; and White worked to destroy the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, a measure that limits government spending, by backing Referendum C.

"I am a warrior for TABOR. I am very young and kind of reckless," Ali said, oblivious to the waitress who had crept up behind him and was now trying to get his attention. "Can I get your order?" she interrupted, as the party members looked on. "Chicken fingers, please," he said, turning back to the audience to finish his point. "You have a choice between shrimp, schnitzel and the salad bar," the waitress said. "What would make me look tough?" Ali asked, laughing. After a long pause, he said, "I'll take the shrimp."

But when the shrimp came, Ali barely touched it. Instead he watched as White, flanked by his wife and campaign manager, rose to speak. "Muhammad has indicated that he has differences with me," he began. "He has misunderstood me. His differences are not really differences." White hadn't yet finalized a plan on oil revenues, he explained. He never voted to send Western Slope water to Denver. And yes, he did support Referendum C, but only because he wanted more money to go to higher education. The audience nodded with each point. "I appreciate what Muhammad is saying, but my question is, why, if he wants to give himself to public service, is he running for SD-8 when all of the Republican leadership wants him to run for 56?"

He then mentioned a poll Ali had conducted which predicted "devastating" results for Ali's Senate campaign. "Can you support Muhammad? I think he's a good person. It is in pursuing HD-56 that you can be put to good use," White concluded.

Back in the Suburban, Ali slumped into the passenger's seat. "I got my ass handed to me there," he told Miller, who was driving.  

"No, no, no," she said. "Al White boldface-lied on certain things. He is a good speaker and an expert liar. You called him on his voting record, and he turned around and asked everyone to tell you not to run."

"I hate those fucking kingmakers," Ali pouted. "I am not going to listen to those fuckers. I am not going to listen to guys that don't mean well for Colorado."

But Ali was already wondering whether the House district was a better choice. He considered floating a proposal to White: If White was willing to publicly pledge to uphold TABOR and make sure that oil revenue returned to the Western Slope, then Ali just might, he emphasized, switch races.

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Naomi Zeveloff