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Latino support of Bill Ritter remains strong despite Stephanie Villafuerte nomination withdrawal

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Talk about some potentially awkward timing. The day after Stephanie Villafuerte withdrew her nomination as U.S. Attorney for Colorado, a group of forty Latino leaders is scheduled to endorse the re-election of Governor Bill Ritter, Villafuerte's former boss, and one of her main backers.

But don't expect those present at the event, slated for 1:30 p.m. at the Tivoli Student Union on the Auraria campus, to criticize Ritter for not fighting hard enough to protect Villafuerte from attacks by the likes of state GOP boss Dick Wadhams -- not if former state senator Polly Baca's take is typical, anyhow.

Rather than knocking Ritter for his actions, Baca, a self-described "strong supporter of Stephanie," puts the blame squarely on Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who she personally saw in action during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

"Sonia Sotomayor is a family friend -- almost like my sister," says Baca, who'll appear at today's event with state senators Paula Sandoval and Abel Tapia, among many other notables. "And what Sessions did to Stephanie was exactly what he tried to do with Sonia. The Republicans on the judiciary committee are adamant about defeating any candidate put forth by Obama."

Sessions "picked at little things that really had no basis in anything," Baca continues, "like Sonia talking about 'wise Latinas' or attacking Stephanie simply for asking questions, which she had every right to do. When you're working on a campaign, you have the right to ask anybody for information. It's up to whoever if they gave that information to her, but it was her right to ask -- so there was nothing Stephanie did that was wrong, just like there was nothing Sonia did that was wrong."

In Baca's view, the feverish assaults on Villafuerte may have been motivated to some degree by a desire to injure Ritter, and thereby enhance the possibility of a Republican becoming governor in 2010. But for the most part, she believes they're fueled by "an anti-Obama effort the Republicans are pushing. They're so angry that we won so big in the last election that they're bound and determined to hurt the president -- and I think that's what happened to Stephanie."

Baca admits to being "incredibly disappointed that Stephanie's nomination didn't go forward. It would have been historic for this state. We've never had a woman U.S. Attorney, and she would have been only the third Latina in the history of our country to be appointed to that position. So it was an opportunity lost, and our community is very saddened by that."

Nonetheless, she hopes Latinos use their frustrations positively.

"I think it's absolutely critical that we support Governor Ritter, given the antics of Congressman McInnis and Tom Tancredo," she says. "When Scott McInnis went behind closed doors and made a deal with the Republican big money and Tom Tancredo, that spelled danger for our community. If our community hasn't been awakened by that kind of behavior, and how negative it can be for us, we'd better wake up now. Because Scott McInnis' behavior is very frightening."

Expect that to be the most prominent message this afternoon, despite what just happened to Stephanie Villafuerte.

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