No Republican is safe -- not even Carol Chambers

Carol Chambers.

Marilyn Musgrave isn't the only dyed-in-the-pantsuit conservative wandering around this bleary morning wondering what the hell happened to his or her mandate. Several other presumably well-entrenched GOP incumbents around the state hung on by their fingernails in what should have been walkaway races.

The case of Carol Chambers, district attorney for sprawling Arapahoe and Douglas (and Elbert and Lincoln) counties, is particularly interesting. With more than 80 percent of the precincts reporting, Chambers appears to have prevailed by a definite but hardly resounding 52-47 margin over Democrat Kevin Farrell. (There are tens of thousands of mail-in ballots still being counted in Douglas County alone, but the percentages seem to be holding steady.) That's a shockingly thin victory by a conservative incumbent who also happens to be the wife of the Arapahoe County GOP leader, in an area that's long been a Republican stronghold.

Scott Storey, Jeffco's Republican DA, had a similarly narrow escape, possibly because of the high-profile hash his office made of the Larry Manzanares investigation and suicide. (See the July 2007 blog "D.A. bluenose: 'Let the healing begin'"). The Chambers squeaker surely has something to do with the multiple controversies that swirled through her first term, from her overkill tactics (read details in the February 2007 feature "The Punisher") to her public censure (that story's told in the February 2007 sidebar "A Thumb on the Scales") and getting tossed off a death-penalty case (learn more in "Bad Execution," from this past April).

To name just a few.

Doubtless the defenders of these zealous prosecutors will blame their diminishing appeal on a throw-the-bums-out voter mentality rather than on their own alarming missteps. Voters are nothing if not fickle, right? Richard Nixon had a landslide in '72, but over the next two years, Watergate and other scandals led to a revulsion with all things Republican, and Colorado, like many states, went superblue in the 1974 races, seemingly regardless of the merits or experience of individual candidates. George W. snuck into office under a Supreme Court edict, then figured he had a mandate after 9-11, only to drag down a lot of traditionally red enclaves with him this year.

Or so the argument goes. But Chambers faced a surprisingly tough primary challenge from ex-prosecutor George Brauchler (highlighted in the July blog "The Duel for DA Heats Up"), who had a lot of endorsements from law enforcement, and then an even tougher race against a Democrat who had almost no campaign budget -- and who also happens to be a (shudder) criminal-defense attorney. All of which suggests the problem lies not in voter fecklessness but in Chambers' record.

There is no mandate so solid that it can't be frittered away, it seems, even in an all-red district. -- Alan Prendergast

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.
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