BETTY ANN BOWSER: President Clinton has been to Colorado three times this election year, most recently to the high country, hoping to inspire the state's Republican-leaning voters to send a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. His man is Denver lawyer Tom Strickland, who by any measurement is in one of the tightest political contests in the country.
TOM STRICKLAND, Democratic Candidate: And on every issue, the leadership and the vision that President Clinton and Al Gore have shown this country on choice, on education, on the environment, on protecting Medicare, that is my commitment to all of you and the people of Colorado.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It's been a long time since a Democrat held the seat that's up for grabs--18 years. So the Democrats want to win it badly. And since the President holds a 13 point lead here in the state, Strickland hopes to ride the President's coattails to victory.
TOM STRICKLAND: (talking to voters) Hi. Tom Strickland.
DANA SMITH: I'm Dana Smith.
TOM STRICKLAND: Great to see you. Thanks for comin' out today. How are you?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That may seem hard to do in what is still a Republican-leaning state, but in the last six years, the mind set of voters has begun to change. What's done that is the massive explosive growth in the suburbs around Denver. Lured by a growing economy in jobs, people have moved to the area by the thousands. These are mostly Republican and independent voters who are now attracted to a moderate Democratic candidate because of their interest in education and preserving the environment. So the location of last weekend's pilgrimage with the President was no accident. Red Rocks Amphitheater is in suburban Jefferson County, which last year surpassed the city of Denver in population and is now where the race could be decided. Floyd Ciruli is a Colorado pollster.
FLOYD CIRULI, Pollster: We have a large number of unaffiliateds. Even our partisans are swing voters. In a single election, we will often vote for a Democrat for governor and a Republican for the Senate, so that nearly half of our electorate will swing back and forth. We like to think that Colorado in many ways is the prototype for what the country is becoming.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Tom Strickland has tailored his message to appeal to these voters.
TOM STRICKLAND, Democratic Candidate: There's so much that we need to do to, to be competitive in this global economy, but nothing's more important than having the best educational system in the world. So I think in the areas of education and the environment and campaign finance reform, those areas where I would look to show true leadership in the Senate.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That message of leadership on education is something Jefferson County resident and mother two Lisa Selzler is looking for. It's why independent voter Selzler says she would choose Strickland over his opponent, Congressman Wayne Allard.
LISA SELZLER: Allard has on may instances commented on how he wants to get rid of the Department of Education, and that, I think, would be if not anything else but a horrible symbolic blow to the education in this country. Strickland, um, has said over and over that he wants to keep the Department of Education. He, um, believes in Goals 2000, which is something else I, um, feel strongly about.
REP. WAYNE ALLARD, Republican Candidate: (talking to constituents) Hi. Wayne Allard. It's good to see you. You enjoying the parade?
MAN: Oh, yeah.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Republican Wayne Allard has been working the suburbs two. After three terms in Congress representing farmers and ranchers in a rural district, Allard is now trying to expand his political base into Denver's suburbs. His main campaign theme is fiscal responsibility.
REP. WAYNE ALLARD: I want to balance the budget, and I think it's important. I want to move the power from Washington back here. I want to have a congressional forum. You know, Colorado is the first state that passed term limits, and I am a strong supporter of term limits, and I believe that Congress needs to live under the same laws as everybody else. I believe that that I what the people of Colorado want.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: For some suburban Jefferson County voters like small businessman Republican Terry Cammon, Allard's comments are right in sync.
TERRY CAMMON: I believe that Allard supports a small businessman better than Strickland does. That's how I feed my family. I mean, it's important to me, and it's been a rough road to hoe.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Coloradans still celebrate the Old West. This is the Westerneers, a group with kids who get together every weekend in Jefferson City. But on any given Saturday, you're more likely to see the new West, people on their mountain bikes or hiking with their families, going into the outdoors or out to the soccer fields. They are part of the population boom in the suburbs that has fueled a backlash against suburban scrawl and pollution. Strickland has courted these voters in his ads.
AD SPOKESMAN: Allard voted to roll back environmental protections for clean water and air and safe food. Environmental Action named Allard one of the twelve worst polluters in the entire Congress.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The issue struck a cord with Jefferson County Republican Hildegard Hix who thinks Republican Allard is too pro-growth.
HILDEGARD HIX: I'm very much an environmentalist, and I've been really concerned about the things that came up in the last Congress. And since Allard has such a very bad voting record on environmental issues, I think I'll have to vote for Tom.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But the Republicans have shot back with attack ads, trying to damage Strickland's credibility on the environment.
AD SPOKESMAN: Strickland's firm lobbied to build a medical waste incinerator in Denver. He represented a company fined millions for polluting our air.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The powerful negative ads may have hurt Strickland on an issue the Democrat thought was his to win. Pollsters say it effectively deflated Strickland's green message. Just about the only thing the two candidates have in common is their attempt to position themselves as "the" moderate in the race.
TOM STRICKLAND: And my opponent, Wayne Allard, consistent with his extremist voting record on every issue that Coloradans care about, voted against this increase in the minimum wage.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In his race to the middle of the political spectrum, Strickland has tried to portray Allard as an extremist. He's made much of Allard's conservative voting record, his anti-choice view on abortion, and his link to House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
AD SPOKESMAN: Wayne Allard votes with Newt Gingrich 92 percent of the time and against the interest of Colorado's working families.
REP. WAYNE ALLARD: I've always push the idea of a citizen legislature.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Allard says he's the moderate, the one who's in touch with the mainstream thinking of voters. And he says he's proud of his strong support for the Contract with America.
REP. WAYNE ALLARD: I'm not embarrassed about what we had in the Contract with America. If we take each one of those items and lay 'em out, 70 to 80 percent of the American people support it. A majority of the people support that type of agenda here in the state of Colorado. They support a balanced budget amendment, line item veto, budget accountability, reducing rules and regulations on local governments, as well as business, term limits. They support cutting taxes and a strong defense. These are all visions that we had, and they all relate to the agenda that I helped put together with a lot of Republicans, and I'm not embarrassed.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But the Democrats believe Allard did embarrass himself when in a televised debate, he said he would support public hanging as a deterrent to crime.
REP. WAYNE ALLARD: Well, I would support that because I do believe it has a deterrent effect.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Although both candidates are in favor of the death penalty, the Strickland campaign got Gov. Roy Romer to join them in condemning Allard.
GOV. ROY ROMER, (D) Colorado: I just think it's a very, very serious revelation of how Mr. Allard thinks. It's beyond the norm. It's an extreme position. It's not Colorado.
REP. WAYNE ALLARD: That was a hypothetical question, and I gave a hypothetical answer, and I--if they say--the key to that is that strong scientific evidence that would dramatically reduce crime. My opponent showed that he's soft on that, and his response, he says, well, we have to worry about how the prisoner's going to react, or the criminal's going to react in that kind of a situation. And I think our main concern needs to be with the victim and their families.
REP. WAYNE ALLARD: (talking to children) How are you?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Colorado voters have sent a lot of maverick politicians and free thinkers to Washington over the years. And pollster Ciruli says the candidate who can show that kind of independence will be helped at the polls in November.
FLOYD CIRULI: We have an independent politics here. And to a large extent, our politics is, is unanchored in either of the two parties. It pays attention to issues. It pays attention to personalities.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Even though he's a three-term Congressman, Allard says he is an outsider and is playing up what he says is his independence. Unaffiliated voter Kathy Cammon likes the idea of sending a man who once practiced veterinary medicine to Washington.
KATHY CAMMON: I kind of like that idea. I like to send people there that haven't been doing it forever and that aren't so entrenched in the system already. That's almost his biggest qualification, in my mind.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Republican ads also have been playing up the fact that Strickland is a lawyer and has served as a lobbyist for special interests.
AD SPOKESMAN: Tom Strickland, he's a lobbyist who's made millions, yet refuses to release his complete tax returns to the public.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: A millionaire Denver lawyer, Strickland makes no apologies for his lobbyist background.
TOM STRICKLAND: I don't feel like I have to defend the legal profession or the lobbying profession. I've done it for a variety of causes. I've done it for environmental causes. I've been an active board member for the Children's--Colorado Children's Campaign, which is the Colorado arm of the Children's Defense Fund. So I, I've been in there fighting for a lot of important causes in the environment and children's issues, et cetera. But what this race is about is not who can call the other person a name, but where are we going to take this country, where are we going to take the state, where are votes going to be on the salient issues that affect people's lives?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Allard has a slight lead in the polls, but Strickland has a three to one lead among women. And a recent poll in key Jefferson County showed the race at a dead heat.