John Hickenlooper's race for guv not close at all despite Tom Tancredo surge, says head Dem

Yesterday, state GOP chieftain Dick Wadhams weighed in on the upcoming election, predicting much ugliness for Democrats.

Shockingly, head Dem Pat Waak has a very different take. She doesn't foresee the kind of Democratic apocalypse plenty of pundits are predicting.

In a recent Fox News poll, American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo had climbed to within ten points of frontrunner John Hickenlooper, who Wadhams recently dubbed the luckiest guy in the world, thanks in part to Republican nominee Dan Maes plummeting to just 15 percent support. Does Waak believe the contest could wind up as a nail-biter?

"No, I don't see it as close at all," she says. "Right now, we would like to get John up over 50 percent, because that would be a good message to send, but I don't really see it as being a close election."

Regarding Dan Maes's release of documents pertaining to his 1985 firing as a cop in Liberal, Kansas, Waak says, "the sad thing about it is, it still doesn't necessarily explain what the facts are -- and at this late date, my own feeling is that there's not a lot of undecided people out there. I don't know that it helps him very much."

That might be bad news for Hickenlooper. As long as Maes continues to draw a sizable chunk of potential voters, the math works in Hick's favor -- but if Maes falls off the map entirely, Tancredo would presumably attract most, if not all, of his previous supporters.

In the meantime, critics continue to snipe at Hickenlooper for playing safe -- an accusation spokesman George Merritt shrugged off in this space yesterday. Such assertions don't trouble Waak, either.

"It's not a question of being safe," she insists. "It's a question of trying to take a reasonable position that fits the needs of all the voters. That's kind of the way John has been from the beginning. If you want him to be a barnburner on one end of the spectrum or another, he really isn't that type of person. He likes to weigh both sides. That may be frustrating to some people who want him to take a solid position on things, but he's trying to come up with win-wins to benefit everyone."

What about the Ken Buck-Michael Bennet senate race?

Right now, polls seem to suggest that Buck's in the driver's seat, even though Dems have tried to paint him as an extremist along the lines of Delaware witchcraft dabbler Christine O'Donnell. Waak sees this portrait as appropriate.

"The unfortunate thing for Ken Buck is that he basically put himself in that situation, by taking on some of the most extreme positions of his party in order to win the nomination -- and now, I think he's going to have trouble backing off them. And quite frankly, the people I talk to -- and I talk to Republicans as well as Democrats -- are really bothered by his positions on a lot of these things. This is a moderate state, and the voters are looking for someone not aligned with extreme positions."

To Wadhams, this line of attack is doomed to failure. He characterizes Buck as a mainstream conservative along the lines of Hank Brown, Wayne Allard and Bill Armstrong -- candidates the Dems accused of extremism, too, without success. But "as a resident of Weld County, I think there's a significant difference between Ken Buck and them," Waak maintains. "I think Ken has gotten himself caught up in his rhetoric, and if he backs away from some of the things he's said, he's going to lose voters. So he's stuck."

What about commercials taking shots at Buck over his abortion stance? Wadhams believes this strategy betrays the intellectual bankruptcy of Dems, since the voters in this election care much more about the economy -- a topic he believes Bennet is trying to avoid -- than social issues.

"I disagree with that totally," Waak allows. "State party chairs sit on the sideline and try to rah-rah and spin things in different directions. But I think Michael Bennet has shown he's been working on tough economic issues. His messages show that.

"Yes, some of his messages have been about choice," she continues. "But there are a lot of women out there who are going to make a difference in this election, and that's an issue they care very deeply about. And I don't think it's wrong to bring that issue up. This election is going to be decided on key issues, and the economy is one of those. But there are voting blocs that need to be appealed to, and women are one of those blocs."

The contests for state representative present more potential trouble for Democrats, with Wadhams arguing that the Republicans could make three significant gains. Waak doubts that -- although she seems more confident in two instances than in a third.

Up first: District 7, where Ed Perlmutter is trying to fend off Ryan Frazier, who Wadhams thinks has a real chance at victory. Not Waak.

"Every single poll I've seen shows Perlmutter way ahead," she says. "I know Dick is close to Ryan Frazier, and of course, he has to make that kind of argument for him, but I don't see it. Ed's seen as a true warrior for his constituents, and that goes beyond just Democrats."

She's less cocky about the District 3 competition between incumbent John Salazar and Republican Scott Tipton.

"I think the race in CD3 is tight -- as tight as I've ever seen it," she concedes. "Internal polling still looks good for John, but he's got to work harder than he's ever worked before. He can't just ride along in his election cycle. But I still see him winning."

And then there's District 4, where Betsy Markey faces an uphill fight to keep her seat from the grasp of Cory Gardner. Right now, Waak's main hope seems to be better-than-expected showings by American Constitution Party candidate Doug Aden and independent Ken "Wasko" Waszkiewicz, who are apt to draw support from Gardner, not Markey.

"This is really a Republican district in registration, but she's worked very hard," Waak adds. "She's picked up some strong conservative endorsements, so I don't count her out. I think if you're predicting Cory Gardner is going to win in that race, you may very well have egg on your face on election night."

Regarding the chances of Democrats as a whole on November 2, most observers prognosticate doom and gloom. But Waak sees a new group of rising stars -- she heaps specific praise on AG candidate Stan Garnett and CU regent hopeful Melissa Hart. And besides, "in the West, and in this state in particular, elections are more about individuals than about party.

"What I see happening on the Republican side is one part of the party has sort of taken over. But the secret is to keep a balance, and have the right candidates to represent that balance."

The key to the election? "Getting out the vote," she says. "We just need to spend time making sure everybody who gets an early ballot uses it and turns it in, and everybody who doesn't goes to the polls and votes. And if we can do that, I think we'll do really well on election night."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts