Bennet campaign storms Colorado Springs

If you were a Democrat trying to win statewide office in Colorado, you might be tempted to ignore El Paso County altogether, or you might look for an angle.

Make no mistake, incumbent U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is looking for the angle.

The New York Times today hangs with Bennet wife Susan Daggett as she campaigns in a Colorado Springs gay bar.

In a county where President Obama polled only 40 percent in 2008, Bennet would like to do just as well in 2010. Some analysts say it is efforts like this that may make all the difference next week.

“This is not the time to go backward,” Ms. Daggett told the room, looking more like a skateboard mom — green sneakers, black jeans and a loose denim shirt — than a Washington wife.

“You can choose the pain of sacrifice in the next eight days,” she said, in urging everyone to make calls and knock on doors, “or you can choose the pain of defeat.”

A spokesman for Mr. Buck, Owen Loftus, said the Bennet campaign’s efforts — drilling down to the small scale for voter allegiance and loyalty — were signs that Mr. Bennet was having trouble retaining his base. Mr. Bennet, a lawyer and former schools chief in Denver, was appointed to the Senate last year to fill a vacancy, and has never before run for public office.

“It’s interesting that Senator Bennet is targeting small groups to win this election,” Mr. Loftus said, “while Ken is reaching out to all Coloradoans — talking about jobs, the economy and reining in government spending.”

But, while Buck’s people downplay the value of talking to small groups–a strategy relied on by the Tea Party–and insist the election is about the economy, it is issues such as climate change separation of church and state that are actually providing the soundtrack for the last days of the campaign.

The secretary of the El Paso County Democratic Party, Carolyn Cathey, said gay men and lesbians gravitated toward the Democrats here as a result of being excluded in past years from participation in conservative civic and city hall groups. That alliance strengthened the Democrats and the gay community both, Ms. Cathey said, and intensified the commitment to social issues and equality on each side of the partnership.

“Liberals here do not have a choice,” said Ms. Cathey, who is also a board member of a group called Inside Out, which works with gay youth. “We have to come out.”

Top Republican strategists in Washington grudgingly credit Mr. Bennet with running what they consider to be one of the best Democratic campaigns of the year, saying he has been surprisingly effective in distancing himself from the White House since the primary in August and positioning himself as an outsider on spending issues even though he is technically the incumbent. At the same time, he has managed to knock Mr. Buck off an economic message by emphasizing social issues.

But polls in many parts of the country, including Colorado, suggest that many Democratic voters will not come out on Election Day; turnout is expected to be a crucial factor, not just how people vote. And one of the women in the bar with Ms. Daggett who has been doing phone-banking for the party, said she was hearing some of that resistance, or perhaps capitulation, in her conversations.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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