The dilemma for Democrats in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District boils down to these choices:
Would they rather have a candidate that 84 percent of voters recognize, but half of those voters dislike?
Would they rather have a person who only 10 percent of voters recognize, but who has no bankruptcy or bad debt in her background?
Or would they rather have a convert from the opposition party who ran a spoiler campaign that may have cost them the last election?
On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar chose a squeaky clean no-name.
Standing outside the state Capitol in Denver, Salazar endorsed his former regional director Betsy Markey for Congress.
“She is,” said Salazar, “a role model for the kind of person who should run for office. She will be the point of the spear for new leaders in Colorado.”
This spear point will need a lot of sharpening to beat Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave in the 4th CD.
But Markey says she is better positioned than the Dems’ last candidate, former state Rep. Angie Paccione. Paccione lost by only 2.5 percentage points to Musgrave in a metaphorical mud-bath in 2006. But Paccione can’t win a rematch, Markey insisted, because Paccione’s failure to pay her student loans and a personal bankruptcy will continue to provide Republicans with the slop they need to smear her.
“The Republicans will simply recycle the attack ads from 2006,” Markey said. “She can’t win.”
Paccione says the same thing about Markey.
“It cost me millions in the last campaign to get name recognition,” Paccione said. “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did a poll recently. I had 84 percent name recognition. Eric Eidsness (the ex-Republican spoiler independent candidate from 2006 now running in the 2008 Democratic primary) had 13 percent. Betsy had 10 percent name recognition.”
At least those 10 percent didn’t view her unfavorably, Markey fired back.
Paccione “may have 84 percent name recognition,” Markey said. “But 43 percent of that is negative and only 34 percent is positive. That’s just hard to overcome.”
Salazar didn’t want to say anything negative about Paccione. But he pointed out that Markey has nothing in her history that would let Musgrave and her supporters run the kind of negative campaign they mounted against Paccione.
“From everything I know about her background, she’s been a success most of her life,” said Salazar. “Betsy can run a positive campaign based on hope and optimism.”
Markey will need plenty of both to best a three-term incumbent.
Still, Salazar praised Markey’s work as a businesswoman in Larimer County and her knowledge of the 4th District, much of which she covered in her job as his regional director. The senator called Markey “a solution seeker.”
“We need leaders who don’t divide,” Salazar said. “We don’t have that in the 4th CD right now.”
Paccione claimed no alarm at Salazar’s endorsement of someone else, a year before the Democratic primary.
“If your boss didn’t endorse you, that would be the bigger surprise,” Paccione said. “I looked at a lot of races where people lost the first time and won the second. I have a viable chance with a second chance. I look at it like this: It probably takes one time to get name recognition and to get the base.”
Markey said her name recognition is about what Bill Ritter’s was when he entered the governor’s race, which he won.
Musgrave has held off Democratic challengers by increasingly narrow margins in each of her three runs for re-election. But she is changing her persona from right wing gay-basher to constituent server faster than you can say same-sex marriage.
“Marilyn Musgrave has seen the writing on the wall,” Markey said. “But her votes haven’t changed. She supported the president on Iraq and voted against the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and the farm bill.”
Be that as it may, Musgrave is still the incumbent. She has moderated her persona, if not her votes. And she has been re-elected three times. That may pose the biggest problem for Democrats in the 4th Congressional District.
Before they take a chance on an unpopular or unknown quantity, people often vote for what they have come to tolerate.