Anna Lord is a Democrat. And one of her favorite stories from her campaign to win Colorado Springs’ House District 21 is about the time she sat down with an elderly woman she encountered while walking precincts in early June.
The woman happened to be a Republican, and, as Lord recalls on the progressive blog SquareState.net, after a nice chat, the candidate told the woman what party she belonged to. The woman, aghast, replied: "REALLY? But you seem like such a NICE young lady!" Turns out, Lord writes, that as a child, the woman’s parents wouldn’t let her meet a Democrat until she was old enough to "handle it." But after meeting Lord, she promised to change her half-century record and vote — if just this once — for a Democrat.
"[Some Republicans] are surprised that I am articulate and thoughtful," Lord says. "They think that a Democrat would have been different."
These kinds of encounters fuel Lord’s belief that she can win in the heavily red district, where Republicans outnumber Democrats more than 2-to-1. There are in 18,722 Republicans, 8,264 Democrats, and 12,205 unaffiliated voters in House District 21, which forms a half-ring in the southwest corner of El Paso County. This part of the county is referred to by political scientists as the "Fertile Crescent" for its large number of older, fiscally conservative Republicans —people who were seminal in establishing Colorado Springs as the conservative bastion that it is today.
Outreach to Republicans has become a core tenet of Lord’s campaign against her incumbent Republican contender, state Rep. Bob Gardner. But Lord’s tactic represents a significant departure from the last time she matched up with, and lost to, Gardner for the same seat in 2006.
Back then, Lord, who currently serves as the president of the Manitou Springs Board of Education, was quick to point out how she and Gardner differed dramatically on education policy. Lord, an ardent defender of public education, talked at length with voters about Gardner’s connections to the national pro-voucher movement. Gardner, an attorney, previously served as the spokesman for All Children Matter-Colorado, a political 527 group that helped to back pro-voucher school board candidates in Colorado Springs’ School District 11.
Two years ago Lord’s campaign for the Legislature overlapped with a bloody recall effort in School District 11, which ended with the ouster of two ardently pro-voucher board members. Lord sought to capitalize on the recall effort and show voters that she, too, condemned vouchers.
"When I am out knocking on doors, I am introducing people to me," she says. "I tell them why they should consider voting for me rather than try to turn it into a negative, character-bashing type of an experience."
Lord knows that winning over neighborhoods that voted for Gardner will take reaching out to Republicans. She calls herself a moderate on her Web site and touts local Republican support. Unlike last time around, when she knocked on doors of Democrats, unaffiliateds and younger female Republicans, Lord has expanded her reach. Now she is knocking on Republican and unaffiliated doors and calling Democrats on the phone.
"It doesn’t matter the age, the gender or the socioeconomic status of the voter," she says. "I can make as good of a connection with one Republican at their front door as with another."
Yet Gardner says that Lord’s approach amounts to being disingenuous. "She forgets to tell people that she is a Democrat and a member of the party of Barack Obama and Bill Ritter and the party responsible for a proposed $100 rise in your car registration," he says, referring to Gov. Ritter’s unsuccessful proposal to pay for highway maintenance.
Despite heavy odds against her, Bob Loevy, a political science professor at Colorado College and longtime political observer, says that Lord may actually have a chance. In the "Fertile Crescent," he says, fiscally conservative voters are turned off by the right-wing religious sector of the GOP. That may allow Lord to position herself as their candidate.
"Upscale Republicans have not liked certain trends in the Republican Party lately, namely what we call the shift from economic issues to social issues," says Loevy. "These people are not strongly opposed to abortion. They are not opposed to stem cell research. They do not take a hostile attitude toward gays and lesbians. So throughout Colorado and all over the country, these kinds of upscale old Republican suburbs are now much more available targets for Democrats."
"She is just doing what all the Democrats are doing in the more Republican areas of the country," Loevy says of Lord’s Republican outreach tactic. "Although they are still voting Republican, those kind of upscale, well-to-do professional Republicans are nowhere near as Republican as they used to be. Her moderate approach has a better chance of working in that district now than it used to."
Gardner, on the other hand, is unconvinced that Lord will win, especially, he says, because his voting record in the Legislature is in line with the more moderate Republicans in the district. He secured money for disabled Coloradans, he says, yet still worked to prevent unfunded mandates from hitting local governments.
In spite of Lord’s changing approach, she says that she will still focus on improving public education if she does make it to the House this time. Gardner says he will work on education issues as well, but plans on promoting bills that strengthen the economy, limit taxes and reduce regulation.