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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Electability Trumps Purity in U. S. Senate Race - Daily Camera

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Holding the center
Electability trumps purity in U.S. Senate race

May 25, 2004

Giddy delegates to the Colorado Democratic Party State Assembly in Pueblo Saturday gave a narrow victory to little-known U.S. Senate candidate Mike Miles over state Attorney General Ken Salazar.

Miles' victory — by a 51 to 49 percent tally — won him the "top-line" position on the August primary ballot. Among wonks of both major parties, top-line listing is considered quite a coup. But there's scant evidence that it sways ordinary voters; it's not like you have to go to the footnotes to find the name of the other candidate, who's listed immediately below, on the, ahem, second line.

In the flush of victory, some in the Miles camp tarred Salazar as "a lifelong politician." One Aurora delegate said Miles deserves the nomination because, "We need change."

Well, a Miles nomination probably would ensure change, as well as the election of a man who is most certainly not a "lifelong politician": Republican beer magnate Peter Coors.

That crunching sound you hear is the collision of idealism and pragmatism. And the screaming is the sound of red-faced idealists — people who support Miles or Republican Bob Schaffer, each of whom is considered more "pure" than their intraparty rivals, but has limited "centrist" appeal in Colorado.

Miles better represents our true beliefs, proclaim Democratic idealists. And when did we get so cynical about politics that we choose candidates based on little more than "electability"? Right-leaning activists say much the same thing about rigid social conservative Schaffer, who will square off against Coors at the GOP state assembly June 5, with both likely to make the August primary ballot.

Swell. But if one party is stubborn enough to nominate a "pure" candidate and the other goes with a more "mainstream" man, guess who's going to be commuting to Washington? And with the U.S. Senate teetering delicately on a 51-48 Republican majority, Colorado is a key battleground state, whether you are a Bush Republican or a Kucinich Democrat.

But let's be real: Colorado is pretty solid GOP country. As of May 14, there were 1,050,553 registered Republicans, 928,583 unaffiliated voters and in third place are the Democrats, with 865,853. That's 36.9 percent Republicans, 32.6 percent unaffiliated and 30.4 percent Democrats — and don't waste time dreaming that a meaningful majority of the unaffiliated are liberals.

For Democrats, all this means finding a candidate with broad centrist appeal who might even attract a few Republicans. For Republicans, it means settling on a candidate who can energize the base, but who doesn't veer so far to the right that he alienates — wait for it — the center. And, of course, statewide name recognition is a boon for any candidate.

If those factors count for anything — and the broader electorate usually has more sense than activist assembly delegates — we'll see a vigorous Coors-Salazar contest in the fall.

Purists can legitimately bemoan the influence of money in politics and the uphill battle faced by lesser-known candidates, of which Miles is a sterling — and qualified — example. But how ironic is it that some of the same Democrats who grumble about Salazar's appeal to the center — including, the horror, moderate Republicans — are the same people who rage and fume about President Bush's lockjawed refusal to reach across party lines or seek compromise?

Politics is, indeed, the art of compromise, and electability matters. If either major Colorado party turns to its "purest" candidates in August, the victory probably will ring excruciatingly hollow come November.

Copyright 2004, The Daily Camera. All Rights Reserved.

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