TOPICS > Politics

Colorado Senate Race

October 22, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


KEN SALAZAR: And we were poor as we were growing up.

TOM BEARDEN: To some, Colorado’s Senate candidate, Ken Salazar, might look like he’s straight out of central casting.

KEN SALAZAR: My family has farmed the same place now for five generations.

TOM BEARDEN: A child of a rural ranch family who excelled in academics, Democrat Salazar was elected Colorado attorney general to serve alongside a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature. In fact, Salazar is the only Democrat elected to a major statewide office.

KEN SALAZAR: It’s like, you know, the kids used to get on a bucking horse, or you get on a calf and see how long you could stay. That’s how this campaign is, you know?

TOM BEARDEN: For Salazar, the trail to Washington, so far, has been anything but smooth. Republican leaders recruited the most famous name in all of Colorado to oppose Salazar in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell. (Cheers and applause) Enter Pete Coors, chairman of Coors Brewing Company. The 58-year-old Coors is a familiar face. He’s the one you may have seen on television selling his household-name product, Coors beer.

PETE COORS: Now, Coors’ barley is grown only in the Rockies.

TOM BEARDEN: Polls say the race is a dead-heat.

SPOKESMAN: Thank you for your energy.

SPOKESMAN: Yeah, thank you very much. Thank you.

TOM BEARDEN: The Democrats need to pick up only two seats to gain control of the Senate, so both parties have targeted this currently Republican seat, and thus have made it the most expensive Senate campaign in state history. Not surprisingly, the candidates’ very different personal stories are front and center in the campaign. For Coors, name recognition is a given.

PETE COORS: In our family, my great-grandfather started to brew in 1873. Our family has been very successful. The culture that we have, to be active in the community, has certainly been instilled in me during my lifetime of community service.

TOM BEARDEN: The Coors family has a political history, as well. They are longtime major donors to the Republican Party. And Coors’ father, Joe, created a conservative think tank called the Heritage Foundation. But Pete Coors says he’s running on his 35-year record as a businessman.

PETE COORS: It’s going to be a very clear choice. I’m for less taxes; he’s for more taxes. He’s a lawyer; I’m a businessman. My leadership skills that I’ve developed over 35 years in our business I think are skills that will be very helpful in the United States Senate.

KEN SALAZAR: See the calluses on the hand?

MAN: Yeah.

KEN SALAZAR: They never go away. The cuts, you know. They’ve been there for a long time.

TOM BEARDEN: Salazar grew up poor on a ranch in the San Luis Valley. No electricity, no telephone and no running water. His Spanish-speaking parents raised eight children, who all graduated from college– the family’s first generation to do so.

KEN SALAZAR: I’ve been a farmer and a rancher for most of my life. I understand the importance of education in the history of my family. I understand the economic insecurities that many families are facing here in Colorado today.

TOM BEARDEN: Salazar says his modest upbringing influenced his record as a two-term attorney general working for Colorado families.

KEN SALAZAR: The people of Colorado know me for the positions that I have taken. You know, I have protected seniors; I’ve protected schools and communities from crime. I’ve worked to protect the water for the people of Colorado. So they know that history.

TOM BEARDEN: Both candidates’ campaign messages resonate with partisan voters.

MAN: Where are the shoes?

TOM BEARDEN: In the Denver area, Democrat Brian Rosengarten says Salazar is more in touch with the concerns of middle class families like his.

BRIAN ROSENGARTEN: Well, he seems a little more down to earth. He seems to know what people, at least in the middle class, are going through. You know, people are losing their jobs and they’re having a hard time finding work and the work that’s available is actually not as high-paying as the jobs that were lost.

TOM BEARDEN: In conservative Colorado Springs, Republican Linn Pickard supports Coors because she likes his corporate background.

LINN PICKARD: I like the fact that he comes out of business and that he has a less government-type approach. That’s very compatible with what I believe at this time. I think that, you know, he’s done a lot for Colorado. I think he’s done it with the right attitude and the right heart and the right base of beliefs.

TOM BEARDEN: But the real battle is less over party loyalists and more for the crucial independent vote. In Colorado, Republicans are 36 percent of the electorate, independents are 33 percent and Democrats are 31 percent.

In fact, the voting history for this Senate seat is a perfect example of the state’s independent-minded electorate. Retiring Sen. Campbell was elected here first as a Democrat, then reelected as a Republican after he switched parties. Pollster Floyd Ciruli:

FLOYD CIRULI, Pollster: There are a lot of independent voters out here, and they sort of pride themselves on being independent. You know, Ben Campbell was an incredibly successful Democratic U.S. senator and congressperson, made a switch to become a Republican and was a successful Republican U.S. senator who probably would have gone to a relatively easy reelection.

So voters out here, they like independents, they like interesting characters, and they’re, you know, inclined to vote the person more than the party.

TOM BEARDEN: That tendency to vote for the person instead of the party may be the reason Salazar, who grew up ranching, is polling well in rural areas that usually lean toward Republicans. But Coors has a powerful political force on his side.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Honored to be on the platform with the next United States senator from Colorado, Pete Coors. (Cheers and applause)

TOM BEARDEN: In every visit to Colorado, Coors has been at President Bush’s side.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I hope when you turn out to vote for me, you turn out to vote for Pete, as well.

PETE COORS: I’m very proud to support George W. Bush. I feel that he’s been a great president. He’s led us through some most difficult times, and he’s done it with decisiveness, resolution, clear vision.

KEN SALAZAR: My opponent is a rubber stamp for what’s going on.

TOM BEARDEN: Salazar is critical of Coors’ fervent support for the president.

KEN SALAZAR: My opponent believes that everything is hunky-dory, you know, whether it’s on homeland security or the national security issues, he believes that we are headed in the right direction and we ought not to question whether or not we could be doing a better job. I think we need to bring a greater sense of urgency. You know, on the economic front, he was quoted in one of our major newspapers, saying that this was the very best economy that he had ever seen. You know, I don’t think that the people of Colorado– who have lost nearly 100,000 jobs and whose household incomes have gone down $2,700 while health insurance premiums have gone up $2,700 — really feel that this is the best economy of their lifetime.

PETE COORS: I’ve never been a rubber stamp all my life, and kind of, in many ways, gone against the grain, done things differently. We’ve got a company that really thrives on that kind of appreciating that character.

PETE COORS: I think we know what we’re going to get if we get Ken Salazar in the United States Senate.

TOM BEARDEN: Coors fired back with commercials that accused Salazar of being weak on terrorism and attempt to link him to presidential candidate John Kerry.

COORS CAMPAIGN AD: On terrorism, Ken Salazar stands with John Kerry’s supporters. Salazar is endorsed and funded by an anti-defense group praising his opposition to a missile defense system.

TOM BEARDEN: The commercials attempt to paint Salazar as being more liberal than Coloradoans.

FLOYD CIRULI: Politically, Colorado is closer to Texas than Massachusetts. Massachusetts has… Democrats, for example, Michael Dukakis did very, very poorly out here. National Democrats that are seen as liberal– for example, Walter Mondale– did very, very poorly out here. George Bush did well last time. Ronald Reagan just ruled the state. He was very, very popular here. So that’s the context that they’re looking for in trying to tie Salazar with Kerry and some liberal policies.

TOM BEARDEN: In fact, although Kerry has campaigned in Colorado several times, Salazar will make his first appearance with Kerry tomorrow, only 11 days before the election. Salazar has focused on Coors’ enormous wealth, saying he’s the one who’s out of touch.

SALAZAR CAMPAIGN AD: (PETE COORS): I don’t know what a common man is.

VOICE IN AD: And that’s Pete Coors’ problem: He doesn’t understand that middle class families are struggling with high health care costs.

PETE COORS: I don’t know what a common man is.

TOM BEARDEN: Some polls show that, while Salazar has cemented the support of his Democratic base, Republican support for Coors has not been as solid. Coors espouses classic conservatism. He wants to reduce government spending, keep cutting taxes, and he’s against gay marriage and civil unions.

Even so, Coors had to undergo a bruising Republican primary battle, where some conservatives said he wasn’t far enough to the right. They cited his beer company giving health benefits to gay couples and its sexually provocative commercials, like those featuring scantily-dressed twins.


PETE COORS: Look, we’re not… as I say, we don’t sell marshmallows and popsicles. We’re in the beer business. Our beer… our product is designed for adults.

TOM BEARDEN: In a state where Republicans and independent voters dominate, the Salazar campaign knows it must turn out Democrats in high numbers if it hopes to win. They also hope to get additional votes from the state’s 17 percent Hispanic population. Perla Gheiler is a volunteer for the Latina Initiative, a group that registered new voters.

PERLA GHEILER, The Latina Initiative: We did this thing where we picked one person and you have to bring ten with you. Like, you register to vote; now find ten people in your family to register to vote. So it kind of adds more than just that one person.

TOM BEARDEN: If Hispanics do turn out for Salazar, Democrats believe that could substantially help John Kerry in a state Democrats have only carried twice in the last 50 years. In contrast, Republicans believe President Bush’s popularity will give Coors a big boost.

PETE COORS: It’s good to see you.

TOM BEARDEN: As the election approaches, both sides will focus their efforts on the independents, who will ultimately decide which one goes to the Senate and, perhaps, which party will control it for the next two years.