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Blog Home Page --> House -- Colorado -- 04

DCCC Plunks Down Big Bucks

House Democrats started flexing their financial muscle last night, reserving their first major advertising slots ahead of November elections and offering a peek into the party's priorities. In all, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reserved $4 million in three competitive districts between September and the November 4 election, beginning the process of swamping Republicans with their financial advantage.

Buoyed by surprising and scandalous revelations that forced Rep. Vito Fossella to announce his retirement from his Staten Island-based Thirteenth District in New York, Democrats plunked down $2.1 million in the pricey New York City market. The party has largely coalesced around New York City Councilmember Mike McMahon, while Republicans are struggling to find a candidate of their own.

After one candidate the GOP settled on passed away last weekend, a new round of recruitment efforts has been rebuffed by everyone on the list, including Fossella himself. At least eight potential candidates have said no to Republican efforts to get them on the ballot. McMahon looks very likely to take back the last Republican-held seat that touches any part of New York City.

Democrats have also reserved about $700,000 on Colorado's eastern slope and high plains, money targeted at ousting incumbent Republican Marilyn Musgrave. Musgrave's Fourth District, which looks like an inverted "L" hanging north and curving down the state's eastern edge, has been contested before, and while Democrats came close in 2006, they are confident in former congressional aide Betsy Markey's chances.

The ad buy comes largely in the Denver media market, which feeds into the bulk of the district's homes, with a smaller amount coming in the Colorado Springs-Pueblo market. Musgrave has a significant cash advantage, with more than $1 million in the bank through November compared with $376,000 for Markey. But the DCCC's commitment can take away Musgrave's advantage in a heartbeat.

Democrats aren't completely playing offense, though. The party has also reserved $1.2 million in advertising time in the Portland, Oregon market in order to defend retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley's seat. Hooley's district is the most competitive in the state, running from south of Portland and the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and including Salem, the state capital. President Bush won the district by a single point in both 2000 and 2004.

State Senator Kurt Schrader is in good position to keep the seat, as his Republican opponent, 2006 nominee Mike Erickson, has been battered by accusations that he paid for an abortion even though he says he is pro-life, accusations that first cropped up in the primary but have only gotten louder. Erickson came surprisingly close to beating Hooley in 2006, and he's got a lot of his own money to spend, but whether he will survive the scandal remains an open question.

Putting money into three seats so early gives the DCCC the opportunity to buy ads at cheaper political rates come the Fall. It does not, however, mean that Democrats have to spend their money in any of the seats. Democrats may find the New York and Oregon seats in their pockets by the time September or October roll around, and if the party decides the money is better spent elsewhere, they will do so.

With such a big cash advantage, look for national Democrats to plunk down money early and often. Republicans, who have yet to cross into the tens of millions of dollars on hand category, could find themselves hurt by increasing ad prices, especially as John McCain and Barack Obama start to make their own ad buys. But at least Republicans will know where Democrats are placing their bets.

Enviro Groups Own CO

Two prominent environmental groups are going to bat early for their favored candidates in Colorado, FEC filings released late last week show. And given the prominence of environmental and energy issues in the state in recent years, investments from the League of Conservation Voters and the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund could have a dramatic impact.

LCV, which has already ponied up serious money on behalf of Rep. Mark Udall's Senate bid along with a consortium of environmental groups, bought another $125,000 in television time, while the more political League of Conservation Voters Action Fund spent $10,000 in campaign literature on Udall's behalf. The expenditures come on top of $250,000 in television time and $12,000 in other expenses just this month.

LCV, Defenders of Wildlife, Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club are jointly targeting Senate races in New Mexico, New Hampshire and Colorado, where they see opportunities to win back Senate seats with environmentally-friendly candidates. The cooperation comes two years after the four worked together to oust California Republican Richard Pombo.

All four groups promised to go beyond those three Senate races, though, and have individually targeted other potential pickups. In Colorado, Defenders of Wildlife last week endorsed a former aide to Senator Ken Salazar, Betsy Markey, in her bid to unseat Republican Marilyn Musgrave and bought a whopping $200,000 in advertising time there. Markey has shown promise, raising $594,000 through the end of March and maintaining $376,000 in the bank.

Musgrave has had her troubles holding onto the district, as well. The three-term Republican won just 46% of the vote in 2006, winning by three points thanks to a third-party candidate, and took just 51% in 2004, as President Bush carried the seat by a wider 17-point margin. Still, she knows she will face a tough fight and has already raised an impressive $1.38 million, with just over $1 million on hand after March.

With environmental groups promising a real effort this year, Democrats may benefit from added emphasis on energy and climate change themes that have so far played a major role in the presidential race. Udall looks like the favorite, for now, in Colorado, while Markey may need more help. But if the groups are able to duplicate their success in Pombo's California seat, they may make a big difference.

Musgrave, Again, In Trouble

Third-term Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave is headed for yet another contentious and costly election, a new poll conducted for her Democratic opponent shows. Musgrave, who replaced Rep. Bob Schaffer in 2002, won just 46% of the vote in 2006, making her the lowest-scoring winner of the entire cycle (A Reform Party candidate took 11%). It's not Musgrave's first close call; after taking 55% in her initial election, Musgrave won just 51% in 2004.

The poll, conducted by Bennett, Petts and Normington, a Democratic polling firm, surveyed 400 likely voters in the Fourth District between 5/13-15, for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Musgrave and Betsy Markey, a former top aide to Senator Ken Salazar, were tested among a sample which included 40% self-identified Republican voters, 29% Democratic voters and 31% independents.

General Election Matchup

A poll taken for Musgrave in March showed her leading, though her campaign could not be reached for comment. When Politics Nation gets in touch with them, find those results in this space.

Musgrave has always had trouble with voters in the district, just 37% of whom view her favorably, while 48% view her unfavorably. 40% say her job performance in Congress is excellent or good, while 51% say it's "not so good" or poor. For an incumbent, none of those are good positions in which to be. She's not helped by national factors either; President Bush has just a 39% job approval rating in the district, with 60% who disapprove.

To keep her seat, which is based north and east of Denver in Colorado's High Plains and includes Fort Collins, Musgrave will not be able to rely on the heavy spending national Republicans did on her behalf in 2006. Musgrave is preparing for the challenge, having raised $1.38 million through the end of March and maintaining just over $1 million in the bank. But Markey is no pushover; she's raised $594,000 so far this year and still had $376,000 on hand, not an insignificant amount.

National Democrats will pay close attention to the race come November, hoping to snag yet another piece of GOP territory. President Bush won the seat by a 58%-41% margin over John Kerry, and by a wider 21-point margin over Al Gore.

Musgrave Faces Daunting Challenge

Colorado Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave faces yet another strong challenge in her bid to keep the state's Fourth District in Republican hands this year. Musgrave will face Betsy Markey, a small businesswoman and local activist running unopposed in the Democratic Primary after Eric Eidsness, a third-party candidate in 2006 who aided Musgrove's re-election, recently ended a repeat bid.

It would seem that Musgrove, who represents a solidly Republican district, would have little difficulty winning reelection. Yet Musgrave has managed only marginal victories in recent years. She won her seat in 2002 with 55% of the vote after popular Republican Bob Schaffer left the seat in his ultimately failed bid for the Senate. In 2004, facing the same challenger, she was labeled the "one-trick pony" for her anti-same sex marriage focus and squeaked past her opponent with 51% of the vote.

In 2006 she received only 46% of the vote (the lowest reelection percentage of any winning incumbent). Had 3rd party candidate Eric Eidsness not run and taken 11% of the vote away from Musgrave's Democratic rival, Musgrave might well have lost.

And so comes the 2008 campaign, in which Democrats are licking their chops in hopes of knocking off the vulnerable Republican from a GOP district who always seems to get away. A poll conducted in April of last year revealed that only 39% percent of voters wanted Musgrave reelected.

Health care will be the most important issue in the campaign, a less polarizing issue for a Democrat to take up in a Republican district, Markey campaign manager Anne Caprara told Politics Nation. Markey will be heavily criticizing Musgrave for her vote against the State Children's Health Insurance Program, echoing a national theme. Caprara says the other major criticism of Musgrave will be her vote against last year's farm bill, a move that will not play well in the district's eastern, more rural counties. Caprara also points to the district's two large growing counties of Larimer and Weld whose new occupants are predominantly Democratic and Independent voters.

Musgrave is working hard to redefine her image. She is no longer the 'gay marriage' congresswoman but the one visiting local diners focused on the bread and butter issues. Jason Thielman, Musgrave's campaign manager, told Politics Nation that "Betsy will be vulnerable because she has a story but no record. She's in lock step with the very extreme liberal position of Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama."

While no public polling is available, Musgrave is a member of the NRCC's Regain Our Majority Program, set aside for the most vulnerable incumbents. Her 2006 campaign benefited from $1.8 million in ads from the NRCC, though it's unclear how much of that she will be able to rely on this year.

Through December 31, Musgrave reported her campaign had $760,483 on hand, almost a quarter of a million short of what she had at the same time of the 2006 campaign. Markey is in better shape financially than Musgrave's 2006 opponent was at this time of the campaign. At the end of the fourth quarter, she maintained $286,000 in the bank.

Markey is among those attending a DCCC retreat in Washington, and the campaign committee sees the seat as one of their top pickup opportunities. Like many Democrats running for Congress, Markey is hoping the huge surge in first time voters for the presidential caucuses last month will translate into large turnout for the congressional race in November.

With Eidsness a non-factor this year, Musgrave could be in trouble. If Markey can win big among an expanded Democratic base and pick up significant support from independents, she could very well pull off the upset.

-- Greg Bobrinskoy