Breaking news: NRCC pulls out of 4th CD

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave at the final CD 4 debate in Windsor. (Photo/Jason Kosena)

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave at the final CD 4 debate in Windsor. (Photo/Jason Kosena)

UPDATE: The Musgrave campaign gave the following comment to The Colorado Independent regarding the NRCC pull-out:

“This is a clear indication the NRCC believes Marilyn is in s strong position to close this race out with a victory in November,” said Jason Thielman, Musgrave’s campaign manager. “We have the resources necessary to close strong and deliver our message unlike many other house candidates across the country.”

In a surprise move, the National Republican Congressional Committee canceled its TV advertising buy in the 4th Congressional District for the last week of the election on Wednesday in what some experts say is clear sign Republican incumbent Rep. Marilyn Musgrave’s re-election bid for a fourth term is at risk. It could also mean that Musgrave’s challenger Betsy Markey could become the first Democrat elected to the 4th CD in decades.

The NRCC has focused on the 4th in recent weeks by dumping more than $700,000 into the race including an additional $400,000 in TV airtime to be used in the final week of the campaign — money the NRCC pulled out today by sending letters to Denver TV stations canceling the ad buy. Both parties have viewed the 4th CD as a clear toss-up throughout the election cycle. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has poured more than $600,000 into the race — including an additional $300,000 Tuesday night for more airtime — and independent expenditures totaling nearly $2 million have flooded in mostly for use attacking Musgrave.

“This is pretty interesting news,” said John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University. “It sounds like the Republicans have other races that need the money more than Musgrave and that they are pessimistic about her chances. If they have internal polling that suggests Markey is sitting on a comfortable lead, something beyond the margin of error, and those numbers have been standing firm in recent weeks and are not going the other way, they might think it’s time to change the pace and protect other incumbents who appear to be in a better spot.”

Polling so far hasn’t been good for Musgrave this year. A Roll Call poll by SurveyUSA in August put Markey ahead by 7 percentage points and a more recent poll by EMILY’s List, a Markey supporter, put Markey up by 9 points. The EMILY’s List poll is somewhat skewed being it included a smaller percentage of registered Republicans than the 4th’s voter demographics. In addition, Markey’s campaign also released internal polling in June that showed her up over Musgrave by 4 percentage points. Musgrave’s campaign has not released any polling in recent months and no outside groups gauging the race have shown Musgrave in the lead.

Markey’s campaign seemed optimistic about their candidate’s standing coming into the final week of the election when contacted by The Colorado Independent Wednesday afternoon.

“This is a pretty clear indication that Musgrave’s negative campaign is backfiring on her,” Markey spokesman Ben Marter said adding they are remain focused on finishing the campaign with the same strategy they have adopted thus far. “We’re going to keep doing what we have been doing. Working hard, talking to voters, getting Betsy’s message out there. There is still two weeks to go.”

The NRCC has struggled to fundraise this year at the same pace as the DCCC which at times has had a 4-1 cash advantage over its Republican counterpart. With so little money and a number of important House seats to fight for, Straayer said there have been signs the NRCC has been struggling but that it was still surprising to see the party pull out of the 4th CD.

“They are fighting tough battles everywhere,” Straayer said. “There were a number of incumbents who retired this year and they have a number of seats they are fighting to keep. The Republican brand isn’t strong right now.”

Another possibility Straayer said should be considered is the Republican Party could be strategically looking at what congressional seats they can let go of this year but have a good opportunity of reclaiming in 2010 or 2012. With more registered Republicans in the 4th CD than Democrats and unaffiliated voters, Musgrave’s seat could fall into that category, Straayer said.

“I suspect another thing they are looking at it is what seats they think are going to be recoverable in the reasonably near future,” he said. “You know, a ‘let’s look at what seats we can walk away from now and be relatively sure that if things don’t go well for the Democrats, not Markey personally but the Democrats as a party, if they have some stumbles, that we can recover the seat later.”

Continuing a trend that started earlier this summer, Musgrave failed to outraise Markey during the third quarter of this year. Between July 20 and Sept. 30 Musgrave raised a total of $599,618 — or $119,286 less than Markey, who collected $718,904 during the same period, according to FEC filings both campaigns made last week. The filings don’t include the money raised during the pre-primary period in the beginning of July. At the time, Musgrave still had more than double the cash on hand as Markey, though, with $798,310 in her campaign war chest compared to Markey’s $381,894 bankroll.

Both campaigns will file their Pre-General FEC filings Thursday but without the NRCC’s backing, Musgrave will most likely need to spend nearly every penny of her warchest fighting Markey throughout the remaining days of the campaign.Markey recently banked on House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi to help her fund raise by attending an event in Denver earlier this month with Pelosi, who also sent a letter to supporters saying the cash-strapped Markey is struggling to keep up with the negative advertising Musgrave has employed. Other big-time Democrats have also sent fundraising letters out to supporters on Markey’s behalf in recent days including Sen. Hillary Clinton and Paul Begala. Markey’s campaign said earlier in the week that the help is being recognized with campaign donations.

Marter, Markey’s spokesman, said he believes polling that show Markey ahead is indicative of voters’ dismay over extraordinarily negative campaign tactics Musgrave has employed including a recent TV advertisement that suggested Markey could face jail time for contracts her family business, Syscom Systems, received while Markey was employed with Sen. Ken Salazar.

Musgrave’s campaign repeatedly raised questions about the contracts that Markey’s family business, Syscom Systems, received after Markey was employed by Sen. Ken Salazar. Musgrave has not provided proof for her allegations and said it’s Markey’s responsibility to prove her company did not benefit from her position in Salazar’s office.

The Government Services Agency, led by Republican appointees made by President Bush, said it could not find a conflict of interest between Syscom’s contracts and Markey’s service under Salazar.

Read more about the Musgrave-Markey race and last night’s final and quite contentious candidate debate.

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Jason Kosena

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