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

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Sacred Grounds was closing, so Ali and his entourage walked down the street to the Hotel Denver to wait in the lobby, a wooden foyer with old quilts folded neatly into the rafters. After hanging up, Ali sprawled on a couch, his head resting in Miller's lap. "Do I work well under pressure?" he asked, looking up at her. "This was simple compared to filmmaking." The couple then meandered off hand in hand, disappearing for what Ali later admitted was a brief interlude in a hotel bathroom.

An hour later, a family driver arrived in Ali's Lexus SUV. It was nearly midnight when they returned to Beaver Creek, and Ali became thoughtful for a moment.

"Do you think I have an ego?" he asked Nottingham.  

"I've never met a person whose ego makes them lovable," Nottingham replied.  

"There's a beauty behind my ego," said Ali. "I end all my messages with 'peace and love.' I am deeply in love with myself. I think I have amazing emotions and thoughts and gifts. I love myself so much, and I know that I see myself in other people. My mother always reminded me that the money could come and go. With interacting with people on a day-to-day basis, I learn to love everyone."

Then the car was quiet again. Miller had fallen asleep.

As the weeks went on, Ali's insistence on the Senate seat began to fade and his anger over the leaked poll diminished when he realized that the state Republican Party wasn't involved. White backtracked on his earlier statements about the poll, saying he'd been bluffing about having seen the results.

Ali didn't quite believe him, but he decided not to sue him, either, thinking he'd take the pollster, Vitale & Associates, to court instead.

Company president Todd Vitale insists he didn't leak the poll, saying, "There is not a shred of truth to it. That would go against anything I stand for and is contrary to my profession. And it is certainly not true."

Meanwhile, Ali's would-be constituents kept giving him the same message — go for the House — and White refused to take the bait on the TABOR pledge, saying "I have been a legislator for eight years. I don't have to sign a pledge to anyone for anything."

In late November, Ali got a phone call from an assistant to House Minority Leader Mike May. The influential lawmaker wanted to meet with Ali. Though Ali was skeptical, he invited May over to his Beaver Creek home, where the two dined on steak and potatoes. The evening turned into a formal invitation to run for House District 56 — with the promise of full backing from the state Republican Party.

"It is my job to recruit candidates, and he and I hadn't met," May explains. "I had heard several people talk to me about him through Young Republicans. And they say great things about him.... He is a young guy. Those senators are old guys who take naps in the afternoon. The House is an energetic and dynamic place. I thought he would fit well in the House." May also reasoned that Ali wouldn't need much help with fundraising. "He probably has some of his own connections."(So far, Ali says he has spent $5,000 to $10,000 of his own money to pay for his campaign staff, food, and transportation. He is scheduled to file campaign finance forms with the Secretary of State's office during the third week in January.)

Ali considered it. House District 56 is full of ski areas and small businesses. The constituents are wealthier, and almost half are independents, meaning it would take a door-to-door kind of effort, just the type of thing that Ali was in the bargain for. And Senate District 8 was wearing on him. "I knew we had the resources to win it, but I was concerned that I would go into the state Senate as the guy who likes to play dirty and just purchases races. The work we did on the grassroots level might not get recognition."

He would come around, he told May, but only if a group of Front Range representatives came to the Western Slope to talk about local concerns. "You have to promise that the pine beetle, severance tax" — oil revenue, that is — "and education become issues," Ali says he told May. "I was shocked that he agreed."

So Ali announced his switch and set up two town hall meetings in Breckenridge and Avon. He and Miller designed stickers for the new race, red rectangles with the words "HASAN for State House/ Holding Denver Accountable" bordering a rustic cabin scene. Ali took to telling people that the cabin represented his Beaver Creek home.

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Naomi Zeveloff