Musgrave’s ‘no’ vote on unemployment benefits belies recent effort to retool her persona

Unemployed and living off the government cheese?

Have no fear; help is on the way… Well, maybe.

Less than a week after the feds announced the largest unemployment surge in two decades, lawmakers in the U.S. House on Thursday approved, on a 274-137 vote, a proposal to extend unemployment insurance benefits from 26 weeks to 39 weeks.

Despite 49 Republicans voting for the extension, the measure stopped three votes short of passing with a veto-proof margin, which would have given Democrats a powerful bargaining chip with President George Bush, who has said he will only support the measure in states with the highest unemployment rates — Colorado, with a 4.4 percent unemployment rate, not being one of them. The rate in the Centennial State is far lower than the national average of 5.5 percent, according to the most recent Department of Labor statistics. Colorado was a national leader in job growth, adding 3,800 jobs between March and April.

Colorado’s seven-member delegation voted party line on the extension, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against the measure.

Republicans pointed to a provision that gave some individuals who worked for as little as two weeks the possibility to qualify for a full year of unemployment benefits as one reason not to support the bill.

(Photo/Markey for high off recent internal polling showing their candidate winning a head-to-head match against Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Democrat Betsy Markey’s campaign wasted no time highlighting Musgrave’s vote as the most recent example of how the Republican is out of touch.

“The [national] unemployment rate jumped from 5 percent to 5.5 percent in the last month, the single highest jump we have seen in more than 20 years,” said Markey’s campaign manager Anne Caprara. “This was a critical vote for working, middle-class Americans and many people inColorado. Being that it failed by three votes, it really is an example of where Marilyn’s vote could have made the difference.”

Musgrave’s campaign did not return phone calls Thursday requesting comment.

Back-channel scuttlebutt indicates Republican leadership gave approval for some at-risk members to vote for the measure, hoping they could use their vote supporting the extension of unemployment benefits to snag crucial votes in the upcoming November election. Whether Musgrave wanted a pass — that is, to be able to vote in support of the proposal — is unknown, but it could have helped her in the 4th, said John Straayer, a political science professor atColorado State University and a longtime observer of Colorado politics.

“It does raise the question that if several party members were given a pass, then why not her?” Straayer said. “I don’t think any one vote all by itself is likely to turn an election, but cumulatively these kinds of votes provide ammunition for your opponent. I think it’s particularly tough for Musgrave at this juncture because she is trying hard to change her image and political style in order to say she is bipartisan.”

Musgrave 2.0

After Democrat Angie Paccione came within three percentage points of beating her in 2006 — the smallest margin of any incumbent in the House of Representatives — Musgrave, now in her third term, has worked hard to retool her political image.

Known for her stances opposing gay marriage and abortion, and notorious among some for being out of touch with voters, Musgrave started her reelection campaign almost immediately after beating Paccione.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrav pumping gas for a constitutent in Fort Collins, Colo. (Photo/Wendy Norris)Through appearances walking Main Street and pumping gas for constituents in larger cities in the district, which includes Fort Collins, Greeley and much of the northeast part of the state, Musgrave has pushed a new, in-touch image while promoting a bipartisan agenda.

Teaming with U.S. Senate candidate Democrat Rep. Mark Udall, Musgrave has sworn off earmarks in 2008 and worked with a bipartisan coalition to gain additional protection for Rocky Mountain National Park and to stop the U.S. Army expansion of its maneuvering site in Pinon Canyon.

Musgrave might be listening to constituents in her district — 40 percent of whom are registered Republicans, 25 percent registered Democrats and 34 percent unaffiliated — but her voting record in Washington, D.C., historically has toed the Republican Party line.

The American Conservative Union gave Musgrave a 99 percent lifetime voting-record rating, the third-most conservative rating of any member of Congress. Her votes this year in Congress have kept her on the Republican line.

Similar to her vote this week not to extend unemployment insurance, Musgrave also voted against a measure in April that would have rescinded billions in tax credits to Big Oil and given them instead to renewable energy projects.

At the time, Musgrave’s campaign said the measure was a back-door giveaway to foreign energy companies, including state-run entities like those controlled by rogue leaders such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, but it still left the door open for Markey, who supports using the billions in tax credits to pay for renewable energy programs.

Money matters

Like many Republicans nationwide, Musgrave has struggled to raise money this election year when compared to previous attempts.

Musgrave raised $355,417 in the first quarter of 2008, ending the period with $1,014,007 cash on hand, according to FEC filings.

Markey’s campaign raised $226,000 during the same period, ending the quarter with $376,372 cash on hand. The campaign had raised nearly $600,000 during the election cycle.

After Q1 filings were reported, Markey’s cash on hand equaled $140,000 more than any Democratic challenger to Musgrave in the past, including Paccione, who had a little more than $230,000 at the same time, according to the FEC.

The wild card again this year could end up being so-called 527 groups, which historically have gone after Musgrave with typically negative campaign advertisements — some of which drew the ire of Republicans and even some moderate Democrats.

Remember the woman in the pink dress?

A memo leaked in January from a Denver-based political consultant who worked with Fort Collins billionaire philanthropist Pat Stryker in 2006, outlined a $2.7 million plan to use 527 money to defeat Musgrave this year.

The memo sent shock waves through the Musgrave campaign, which according to a fundraising letter sent earlier this year to supporters, said it has been told by the national party not to expect much financial help in 2008.

Whether the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) actually will hold out on Musgrave is debatable, but that threat certainly wasn’t ignored by her supporters who helped her achieve her April fundraising goal after the letter hit mailboxes.

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