Hush, Hush & On the QT: Race Revs Up in SD8

We are more than a year away from the 2008 election and the State Senate 8th race in northwest Colorado is already grabbing the interest of political spectators. Republicans have held this seat for many election cycles, but since 2000, the Democratic candidates have lost by less than 10% of the vote-basically a handful of votes in each precinct.

Surely to be a targeted race by both political parties, will the Democrats finally prevail in SD8 in 2008?Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketDistrict Boundaries
A huge district geographically, SD8 includes Routt, Moffat, Jackson and Rio Blanco Counties and most of Eagle and Garfield. Cities and towns include Steamboat Springs, Craig, Meeker, Rifle, Eagle, Vail and Glenwood Springs.

Dotted with ski areas and ranches and no towns over the size of 10,000 in population, the district is also home to the one of the more active energy development areas in the US. Most of the lands are under the auspices of the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and contain perhaps the largest elk herds in the world.

The Issues
Canvassing this district as a candidate is no small trick. Besides the thousands of miles a state senate candidate could travel from one end of the district to the other during a campaign, he or she needs to be well versed in grazing rights, gas well production, downtown economic development, the ski industry, tourism, transportation and wildlife management, to name a few issues. Plus, this rural region is facing very urban problems such as meth use, traffic congestion, air pollution and rapid growth.

Marketing a candidate in this district is challenging as well. There are no local major media markets that cover the whole district. Almost each little burg has its own hometown newspaper and radio stations coverage is fractured because of the mountains blocking out signals. Going door-to-door is tough because population centers are spread out, but the rural voters still expect candidates at their door step.

The Numbers
The current breakdown of registered voters in SD8 includes approximately 29,000 Republicans, 19,000 Democrats and nearly 31,000 unaffiliated folks who can swing their support both right and left. In the last election, incumbent Republican Jack Taylor barely hung on against Democratic challenger, Jay Fetcher, a rancher from the Steamboat area-28,521 compared to 26,896 votes.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Candidates
Rep. Al White (R-57) is termed limited in his house seat in 2008 and has left little doubt that he wants to replace Jack Taylor, also a term-limited Republican in the state senate. Viewed as a “moderate” Republican, White has been active in recent oil and gas legislation and on state tourism committees.

One problem: he did not live in the district until he recently purchased a condo in Hayden.

Called a “carpetbagger” by even some of his Republican constituents in the outer western boundaries of the district, there are rumors White will have a primary because he has not been very visible in voter-rich areas like Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Eagle/Vail.

Others have also speculated that White will be targeted for a primary because conservatives are unhappy with his support of some Democratic legislation such as oil and gas regulation.

White has denied the “carpetbagger” moniker in a recent Grand Junction Daily Sentinel article, citing his residency in Hayden which is also in the 57th-although he admits he does reside in his homes in Winter Park and Denver, too.

White, who has represented House District 57 since 2001, changed his residence and voter registration last November to Hayden in Moffat County – and in Senate District 8.

“It’s not new territory,” White said Monday. “It’ll be difficult to call me a carpetbagger.”

Given his legislative work, as well as that on a committee studying mineral-severance taxes, White said he spends about a third of his time each in Denver, Hayden and Winter Park.

His former residency in Winter Park is in very Democratic SD16-Joan Fitzgerald’s seat–not a likely place for White to win, where SD8 has been historically in Republican hands. Hence, White “moved” to Hayden to further his political career.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSteamboat Springs councilman and Routt County Democratic chair, Ken Brenner and Eagle County Commissioner, Arn Menconi have both been named as possible Democratic candidates for SD8.

Menconi has been embroiled in a recall movement recently, perhaps cooling his chances of a SD8 run.

Congressman John Salazar recently unveiled a loosely held secret of Brenner’s interest in the 8th when Salazar said he would be proud to share the 2008 ballot with Brenner.

From the Steamboat Pilot:

“If you see Ken Brenner’s name on a ballot, I’d encourage you to vote for him,” Salazar said. “He’s being asked by John Salazar to run for a very prestigious position.”

Brenner, a Steamboat businessman, has not officially declared his candidacy for the SD8, but his presence at oil and gas discussions, political gatherings and other pubic meetings has not gone unnoticed.

Stay Tuned
More sooner than later, the “official” candidates will be lined up to hit the campaign trail with perhaps both parties looking at primary races. No doubt, with Routt, Garfield and Eagle Counties having a large number of unaffiliated voters who can swing their votes in either direction, this is going to be a very interesting race to cover and watch. And it could make a difference to whether the Democrats will be able to hang on to their state senate majority in 2008.

Pictured: 8th Senate District boundaries; Rep. Al White; bottom: Steamboat Councilman Ken Brenner