Godfather Salazar Makes an Offer 4th CD Can’t Refuse

Anyone who questions U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar’s role in Colorado politics should take a look at the state’s Fourth Congressional District.

Maybe Salazar is not a Godfather in the traditional sense, but he makes offers you can’t refuse.

In the Fourth, that offer came in the form of a former Salazar staff person, Betsy Markey. With Salazar’s blessing, it took Markey barely a month to run Angie Paccione, the 2006 Democratic candidate in the Fourth, out of a self-destructive primary.

Or course, Paccione, a former state representative, won’t frame it that way. She says her new job with Pathways to Leadership required more time than she could devote while running for Congress.

Markey isn’t gloating. Neither is Salazar.

But those who deny the political muscle exhibited here simply lie to themselves.The Dems poured millions of dollars into the Fourth CD in the 2006 election when Paccione lost by 2.5 percentage points to Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave. Though it was close, there were indications that Paccione could get no closer.

The 2006 election turned on two things. First, an old personal bankruptcy and the failure to pay back student loans left Paccione vulnerable to attack ads that neutralized her attacks against Musgrave, an extreme social conservative cast as more interested in banning gay marriage than serving constituents. Second, independent candidate Eric Eidsness drew enough votes from Paccione to take away her ability to win.

Enter Salazar. Or rather, Markey.

Eidsness, a former Republican, has since changed parties to run in the Democratic primary. But as a perceived spoiler last time around, Eidsness will not create the rancor and division among Democrats that a Markey-Paccione-Eidsness primary would have.

Connected in both the rural and urban communities of the Fourth because of her work running Salazar’s northern Colorado office and her life as a businesswoman in Larimer County, Markey has roots rather than name recognition.

What she lacks is baggage.

That’s one reason Salazar showed up to bless her candidacy on the east lawn of the state Capitol Aug. 22.

Typically, the senator never said it was his way or the highway. What he said was that Markey could run against Musgrave without the distractions of bad debts or bankruptcy.

What he didn’t say, but Markey did was that Paccione could never sufficiently recover from those problems to mount a successful campaign.

Early polling by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee showed that theory had credence. Paccione’s name recognition was 84 percent in the Fourth CD. But 43 percent of those who recognized her name viewed her unfavorably.

Markey, known by only one in 10 likely voters, can essentially invent herself. She can attack Musgrave for voting against expanding health insurance to children of the working poor without having the charge neutered by some old skeletons that makes people afraid to vote for a change.

Though she remains a long shot against a three-term incumbent, Markey has a chance that Paccione never had in a Republican district where election results have grown closer and closer.

No matter how subtly Salazar wields power, that’s the Godfather’s way.

If Betsy Markey is not Ken Salazar’s exact surrogate, she clearly projects her old boss’ successful political model. Moderate. Affable. Practical. Willing to compromise. Most importantly, able to win.

And for now, win Salazar did.

In August, Angie Paccione’s people poo-poohed the senator’s perceived political queen-making. But one month and four days later, their candidate was done.

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Jim Spencer

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