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

Page 5 of 10

Miller held Ali's hand while she drove, using her other to maneuver the car back toward downtown Glenwood Springs. Over the past few weeks, a romance had developed between the two. Miller, 26 and a mother of three young boys, originally joined the team as a publicist. But one night, after a Young Republicans debate, Ali found himself kissing her against her car. At first they'd kept things quiet and casual. "If there is one elected office I have held, it is 'Mayor of Commitment-Phobia-Ville,'" he says. "I told her, 'I'm a bad guy. I'm this womanizing mean guy who wants to be a politician.'"

But then one day Bartleson caught them making out in between interviews for a campaign assistant, and Ali decided to go public with the relationship. Miller transitioned into a volunteer role to avoid a conflict of interest. And she stopped eating pork because Ali, who keeps a halal diet, said he could taste it on her breath when he kissed her. Although Ali says he was a little embarrassed at first about the planetary wallpaper in his bedroom, it hasn't kept Miller from repeatedly spending the night there.

Ali also began telling their story to warm up the crowd at each campaign stop. "This has been the best part of the campaign," he says. "You find love when you are not looking for it. I had given up on love. I said, 'I just want to have fun.' She walked into my life and definitely made an improvement."

That evening, however, Miller went home, and Ali returned to the Beaver Creek mansion about 9 p.m. He walked into the kitchen, a basement room set up like a restaurant, with pots and pans hanging from the ceiling and stainless-steel countertops where the family chef creates their meals. Seeme sat at a wooden table down the hall in a room decorated with paintings of fruit and photos of Ali and his two sisters in ski clothing. She wore a brown and red tunic dress, eating onion rings with grilled cheese and drinking water from a cut-glass goblet. "Good Morning Pakistan" was showing on a mounted television with a clip of Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani president who would be assassinated just weeks later.

Before Ali could sit down, Seeme asked him for the full report on his day. Ali admitted that he had debated White, even though Seeme had warned him against it so early on in the race.

"Why won't you listen to me, Ali?" she asked in her thick Pakistani accent. She glanced at the television and back at her son.

"I didn't know what to say," he said. To make matters worse, nearly everyone at the luncheon seemed to support his opponent, Ali explained. One quiet older woman who attended all of his events implored Ali to switch races, saying he would burn bridges with the state Republican Party if he didn't.

"So they like you, but they are concerned that it will hurt you to run in this race," said Seeme. "They want to keep you on as a leadership person. If you run in the primary, it will make Al White supporters mad."

"I was told, 'Everyone in that room loves you,'" said Ali. "'Nobody wants to see you go through a primary.' The grassroots love us. The grassroots see no difference between the House and the Senate."

"Then the grassroots don't recognize that Al White is not following conservative policies," said Seeme, her voice growing louder.

"I think I underestimated his popularity."

Seeme called brusquely for a Coke, and after a few moments, a young female servant appeared from behind a wooden partition painted with roosters to hand her another glass goblet. "I am a Republican, and if you have a Republican candidate, then he should represent the views of the party," she continued. Her son's "mission statement" she said, was to hold White accountable for his liberal voting record, the very record that Ali tried to bring up at today's debate. "You can cry or you can bow down. The grassroots doesn't know the truth. Al White will be four years in the Senate following these liberal policies. Do you want to send this man to the Senate?"

"I am trying to be intelligent about this," Ali said quietly. "I don't want to disappoint you."

Ali often refers to Seeme as his personal hero. She gave birth to him on July 4, 1980, exactly one year after she was sworn in as a citizen of the United States, and frequently brought her "Yankee Doodle Dandy" of an infant along with her to her various volunteer posts around Pueblo. "He would stuff envelopes and put in signs," says Seeme. "He'd fall asleep. But I'd never let him take naps. His entire life has been spent fighting for this cause or for that."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Naomi Zeveloff