Kefalas, McCluskey face off again in tight HD 52 race

Democrat John Kefalas and Republican Bob McCluskey know close elections.

The men battled for the House District 52 seat in 2004 when McCluskey won by 500 votes. In 2006 it was Kefalas who ran to victory, winning with 53 percent of the vote.

Fast-forward to 2008, and the two are at it again.

HD 52 covers the eastern and northern part of Fort Collins and is in many ways symbolic of Colorado’s growing nature as a swing state. Unlike HD 53, the other state legislative district in Fort Collins that has been in Democratic hands for decades, HD 52 has a more moderate voting block, which translates into closer elections and more attention from outside political groups.

“We expect it to be close again this year,” said McCluskey, a small-business owner and Fort Collins native. “It’s always tough to win, but we think we are looking pretty good so far.”

So does Kefalas.

“The race is targeted, and we expect it will be close,” Kefalas said, adding he expects 527s to play a large role as they did in 2006. “I think we will win by a larger margin than last time, but there is a difference this year — I have a track record.”

In fact, both men have a track record from their time serving as state legislators, and both are working to promote it.

McCluskey, a former Fort Collins City Council member who served two terms in the state House, touted his work to pass legislation aimed at enhancing police impersonation and Internet predator laws as well as his work to create a hospital report card to help people better choose health care facilities.

“I think if you run in a district that is competitive, which Fort Collins is, you end up dealing with all sides of an issue and come to a middle ground that is good public policy,” McCluskey said. ”I am used to working with both sides to bring groups together and see what we can do to help move Colorado ahead.”

Finishing his first term at the capitol, Kefalas proudly talks about his work to strengthen uranium mining regulations in Colorado — which helped stop a proposed mine in Northern Colorado earlier this year — as well as his efforts to lower the cost of textbooks for college students and to help the poor.

“I’ve learned a lot during my first term,” Kefalas said. “I know not to get as stressed out as things have a way of working themselves out. It’s a balancing act in this line of work, but I know I have the tools to continue working with everyone to get good legislation passed for Northern Colorado and the state.”

Although there are differences between the men, some major ones, they do share some perspectives. Both said the economy, health care and transportation are important policy areas the state needs to address in coming years. Both talked about being green, the environment and the new energy economy. Both said they will work to strengthen the job market.

Like many targeted races in Colorado this year, the election could see great influence by outside political groups jumping into the fray. Making things harder to gauge is the shifting voter registration numbers the district has seen in the last decade.

Although dropping in total numbers significantly and trending Democratic in recent years, HD 52 remains essentially a one-third Republican, one-third Democratic and one-third unaffiliated district, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

How much 527 activity, which played a big role in 2006, will enter the race this year has yet to be seen, but so far the expected political players on each side have each dabbled into the race. Big labor unions are giving to Kefalas while pro-business political action committees are giving to McCluskey.

Independent expenditures seem to be favoring Kefalas though who has been able to increase his cash on hand over the last few weeks at a time when McCluskey has spent much of his fundraising on mailers and other advertisements. The result is a growing gap between the two candidate’s cash on hand coming into the most important months of the election.

At the end of August Kefalas and McCluskey were both doing well fundraising when compared to other Northern Colorado races, but Kefalas held the strong advantage, raising more than $76,000 during the cycle with $60,000 cash on hand. McCluskey has raised $47,000 with $14,000 cash on hand — a gap he believes he can overcome.

“I feel good about my fundraising so far,” he said. “I know this will be a close race again and I am preparing for it. I think Fort Collins is changing so fast that despite our history of running against one another there are not many candidates out there that are too familiar to voters.”

Or in other words, it’s anyone’s game.

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