Republicans and Democrats for months have said control of the state Senate hinges on who wins Republican Sen. Laura Woods Arvada seat. Could the path to a Democratic majority Senate run through northwestern Colorado instead?
Democrats hope so. And that’s why some are backing a Republican turned independent to take on GOP Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs.
Former state Sen. Al White of Hayden, who spent four years leading Colorado’s Tourism Office, will try to become the state’s first lawmaker to win as an unaffiliated candidate by challenging Baumgardner for the Senate District 8 seat that covers most of northwestern Colorado.
Why would White take on Baumgardner, whose seat has been considered relatively secure, at least, until now?
There’s some nasty history between White, his wife Jean and the current senator.
Al White ran and won the Senate District 8 seat as a Republican in 2008, after spending eight years in the House, serving as a member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee. When he stepped down in 2011 to become Gov. John Hickenlooper’s state tourism chief, Jean was chosen by a vacancy committee to replace him.
But she didn’t hold the seat for long. Baumgardner beat her in the 2012 Republican primary, and went on to beat Democrat Emily Tracy in the fall by roughly 7 percentage points.
The 2012 primary turned ugly when, in a mailer, Jean White was accused of subscribing to the “homosexual agenda” by voting for civil unions.
Baumgardner took hits from negative campaign ads, too. He was accused of siding with Democrats on transportation fees. Opponents slammed Baumgardner, who had voted against a rewrite of the state’s sex offender laws, for allowing a convicted sex offender to live and work on his ranch.
White told The Colorado Independent this week that his time as tourism chief should play well in the northwestern Colorado district that is home to world class skiing. White, whose background is in the ski industry, was lauded for his efforts to promote the state’s tourism economy, which set visitor records in 2013 and 2014.
Deciding to run as an independent was a tough choice for White, who won’t be able to rely on financial support from either major party. He says his successful track record as a lawmaker willing work across party lines will help drive money into White’s campaign coffers.
“Running as a candidate from a major party doesn’t interest me,” White told The Independent Wednesday. The biggest problem with being from a major party is the expectation from leadership that you’ll vote for the party agenda or ideology, and “if you don’t, we’ll primary you” and find somebody else to run.
“Good public policy shouldn’t be held hostage to a party process or ideology,” he said.
“I don’t want to be another Republican or Democrat” and beholden to party interests. “I’d rather be beholden to my constituents.”
Conventional wisdom suggests that if elected, his swing vote could make him the most powerful lawmaker in the Senate.
Despite running as an independent, White could play an important role in Democrats’ efforts to win back the Senate. Should he be elected, he would have to pick one party or another to caucus with.
Could he ally himself with Democrats? Party brass are certain to court him, and his participation in the caucus is a strong possibility, sources told The Colorado Independent.
For Republicans, hanging onto Baumgardner’s seat may mean putting money into a race that until this week wasn’t seen as competitive. His only opponent before White entered the race was Tracy, who recently announced she plans to take another stab at the seat.
While she was successful in fundraising in 2012, Tracy’s campaign bank balance shows a mere $367 for the 2016 race, most of it carried over from 2012. If money is an indication of the seriousness of her campaign, she is hardly a formidable opponent.
White says the equal number of Republican and unaffiliated voters gives him a solid chance of beating Baumgardner in November.
Democratic voter registration trails at a distant third.
White said he can siphon off votes from Tracy and Baumgardner. Coupled with strong support from unaffiliated voters and key Democratic support for his campaign, he sees a clear path to the Senate.
Reached late this afternoon, Baumgardner said only that White’s announcement was “interesting.”
Photo courtesy of The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.