We are on the summer campaign trail full of county fairs and small town parades. In the rural areas especially, these special community activities draw folks together that would not normally congregate. It’s also an opportunity for politicians to meet a lot of people in a short period of time and raise their name recognition with floats and hanging banners.
Across the Western Slope in the summer, the one-on-one politicking and issues chatter meander through dusty fairground livestock barns and Lions Club barbeques. The Rio Blanco County Fair in Meeker may be an unusual place for two politicians with totally different political futures to cross paths. Yet, at the entryway into the enclosed arena where a 4-H livestock sale was being conducted, Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Bill Ritter and Republican candidate for the Congressional Third, Scott Tipton found themselves ten feet away from each other. In the mix, were local candidates trying to survive the Republican primary, which in reality, determines who will win the general election.
In Rio Blanco County, population 6500, even the sheep vote Republican.
As the auctioneer sought bids for 25-pound packages of BBQ ribs from a Cattlemen’s dinner the night before, the traditional “grippin’ and grinnin'” proceeded in the foreground. You could not enter the doorway without someone shaking your hand.
Ritter came with an entourage of two staffers and three college-aged girls in sandals and Ritter t-shirts. Imagine the horror in these ladies’ eyes when a local Democrat said, “You’ll impress the voters around here if you step in cow pies with them shoes.”
Former farm-boy Bill Ritter, in comfortable jeans, open shirt and broken-in cowboy boots, looked very relaxed in this setting and that was not lost on potential voters. “I’m a lifelong Republican,” a 70’ish woman in a Ritter t-shirt exclaimed, “But when someone handed me this shirt, I put it on.” It was her way of showing whom she was supporting without saying it, which might be considered traitorous in this region.
Scott Tipton was also casually dressed in appropriate attire and much more energetic in his greeting to local ranchers and their families. He registered as a 4-H buyer and would run down the length of the bleachers with each new animal auction category to survey the stock. A candidate who buys a 4-H animal (which is usually donated to charity or back to the child) impresses many.
On the local scene, a local three-term county commissioner Kim Cook thinks his chances for re-election is in trouble. “It’ll hard to beat someone who is related to half the county, ” he lamented.
Storm clouds are brewing in the darkening evening sky as the 4-H rabbits make their way to the auction block. Tipton continues to hand out brochures and wag people’s arms. A tired Ritter communications director moans that they should have left an hour ago for Denver, a four-hour trip, but it looks like they will not be departing soon.
Ritter just gathered his group together and said, “C’mon, I bet you never saw a 4-H auction.” The girls in sandals, wading through a mixture of dirt, sawdust and manure on the arena floor, follow him into the grandstands.