The Colorado officials who bucked the bailout -- and those who went along

Tom Tancredo, bailout buddy.

For at least one day in election year America, partisanship didn’t rule.

The muddy moral oozing out of Capitol Hill in the wake of the failed $700 billion Wall Street bailout is that individual survival always trounces party allegiance. Beneath the inevitable finger-pointing between entrenched House leaders, a very Upstairs/Downstairs battle of the haves and have-nots is taking place, and the Colorado congressional delegation offers the clearest example in the country.

As the House narrowly rejected the bailout bill, 228-205, along stunningly bipartisan lines, so too, did the Colorado delegation split 4-3. Democrats Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter joined GOP firebrand Tom Tancredo in supporting the bailout while Dems Mark Udall and John Salazar shared their disapproval with Republicans Marilyn Musgrave and Doug Lamborn. Odd bedfellows, no? How could "Boulder Liberal Mark Udall" side with Musgrave, whom the American Conservative Union ranked as one of the most conservative members in the House? And when was the last time that DeGette and Tancredo agreed on anything of substance? What do these two coalitions have in common?

The answer, naturally, lies in an incumbent’s knack for survival. Of the three representatives who supported the bill -- DeGette won her last election with an 80 percent majority, Perlmutter handily won his first election in 2006 and has seen his 7th Congressional District grow even more Democratic since, Tancredo is fresh out of head-spinning foreign policy suggestions and is relinquishing his seat -- none is worried about results come November.

But for those pols whose seats are held more tenuously this election cycle, the $700 billion price tag and overwhelming public distrust of the bill (many congressional offices throughout the country reported 100-1 and 1,000-1 ratios of opinions against) sent indignant nay votes to the floor. Udall, whose Boulder-turned-Eldorado Springs background has been a fleshy weakness for Bob Schaffer to exploit in their nasty and highly competitive Senate fight, said of his refusal to support the bill, "In the rush to respond to solve this critical problem, we have an incomplete response."

Marilyn Musgrave’s 4th District seat has been for many months a nationally watched race for a Democratic changeover and a major target of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. A late August SurveyUSA poll had Musgrave, who voiced her opposition to the bailout as early as last week, down seven points to challenger Betsy Markey.

Doug Lamborn, whose 5th District has never gone to a Democrat since its creation in 1972, will likely have an easy time with challenger Hal Bidlack. But Lamborn has only held the seat for two years, won his first GOP primary by less than a thousand votes and secured his re-election primary bid by refusing to debate his opponents, ultimately garnering 44 percent of the vote. He’s not eyeing November but rather prepping for his next tough primary fight in an extremely conservative area that won’t take kindly to massive federal upchuck of taxpayer dollars. And though John Salazar’s seat in the Third District is a safe one and any challenge from rancher Wayne Wolf will be minimal, his constituency is vast -- nearly the entire western half of the state -- and has shown no qualms about changing its representation. The Third has split its past 50 years almost exactly between GOP and Democratic control.

There are always coattails to be ridden in a major election year, but rare is the political firestorm so explosive that candidates would rather take their own chances than affiliate with a big name higher up on the ticket or play the safe vote and toe the party line. In Colorado, with Barack Obama visiting Westminster and encouraging swift passage of a rescue package, and throughout the country with John McCain’s now un-suspended campaign, neither party lined up to support their presidential nominees, who had both voiced their support for the bill in the Senate. McCain took a particular beating, as all of his fellow Arizonan Republican lawmakers voted against his recommendation. -- Joe Horton

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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