Aaron's Real Opinions:

The 7th Congressional District Primary
by Aaron Harber
August 20, 2006 - Print Article

Part 1: Did Dick Lamm Win The Primary For Ed Perlmutter?

Ed Perlmutter’s stunned the political world not with his victory in the 7th Congressional District’s Democratic Primary but with his 15-point victory over Peggy Lamm (53% for Ed to 38%for Peggy with Herb Rubenstein claiming 9%). Many experts speculated about what happened that so severely damaged Peggy’s chances to win. Was it former brother-in-law and ex-Governor Dick Lamm’s recent comments about cultural customs resulting in performance differences among various racial and ethnic groups?

It was true that, at different points in the campaign, Peggy was ahead in the polls. She was a woman running in a congressional district most analysts believed was partial to women candidates. Within the district, State House and State Senate seats were held by women. Lamm’s name was famous in Colorado. She was endorsed and financially supported by Emily’s List - a Washington, D.C.-based group which financially supports women candidates across the country.

Once elected to the General Assembly as a State Representative, Peggy had a lot going for her. With two men running in the Primary Election and Peggy the likely recipient of the “women’s vote,” it appeared the odds were in her favor. That is why so and many people “pegged” her as the likely victor.

But a more thorough analysis may reveal why Ed won and it probably had little to do with Dick Lamm. Dick Lamm certainly offended a large number of people but few were likely voters in a nearly 700,000-person congressional district - in which only 29,000 Democrats actually voted on August 8th (about 4% of the district’s population).

Plus, who in Colorado is surprised any more when Dick Lamm makes a controversial statement or is embroiled in a controversy due to being misquoted or misunderstood? Setting aside the immigration issues he raised, it is difficult to believe that sophisticated Democratic voters in the 7th C.D. punished Peggy Lamm for what her former brother-in-law said. As Primary Election voters, these people knew Peggy and Dick Lamm well - and most were unlikely to use guilt-by-association in a race such as this one.

Obviously, Peggy Lamm probably would have preferred Dick Lamm stay on the sidelines in the final days of her campaign but the former Governor is not a sidelines kind of guy. And it probably never occurred to him that anything he might say about immigration would impact Peggy’s race. It wasn’t as if this was a new issue for him to address. So, the question is “What really happened in the Primary Election?”

Part 2: Did Peggy Lamm Do Herself In?

With the nation watching and even the New York Times focusing on the race as one of the few it will cover heavily this fall, the battle for the Democratic nomination in the 7th Congressional District was won handily by Ed Perlmutter.

The likely reason Peggy Lamm lost to Ed Perlmutter in the 7th Congressional District was because Ed ran a far superior campaign. He had a better organization, was better funded, and also had represented a sizable portion of the District as a State Senator. Many of the voters in the District already knew him and had voted for him. When Peggy was in the General Assembly, she represented no portion of the District and was seen as a carpetbagger by some because she never had lived in the District prior to her campaign.

Ed had solid support from organized labor as well as from a large number of prominent Democrats. His party connections were far deeper than Peggy’s and he used them strategically. Some analysts also believed Peggy’s attack ads against Ed backfired. At one point she even argued he was anti-woman because he failed to support legislation to allow DNA evidence to be used in older cases. While he probably would change that vote today, he had a constitutional basis for the objection and his long-time record supporting women’s rights made it a stretch to say he did not care about women.

Peggy also stumbled several times and, while none of the minor stumbles were fatal, the combination wasn’t helpful. Moving into the District later than what made political sense, having problems filing campaign reports, and similar faux pas definitely hurt Peggy’s campaign but the damage likely was minor.

What probably was the fatal blow was a decision Peggy made in 2002. It was to support the reelection of Republican Governor Bill Owens. Peggy had a number of good reasons to support the Governor. She had a good relationship with him politically. She chaired the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, she served as a Trustee of Adams State College (and has chaired its Board), and she thought Governor Owens was doing a good job in this and other arenas.

Peggy served as the Executive Director of the nonpartisan Bighorn Action and was instrumental in proposing and getting passed a piece of legislation almost every Coloradan supported - the famous “no call list” which restricted telemarketers. So how could anyone run for office with this resume and lose? Somehow, Peggy Lamm found a way.

Part 3: What Really Were Peggy Lamm’s Choices?

The reason Peggy Lamm’s endorsement of Governor Bill Owens in his reelection campaign was so important was due to who was voting in the 7th Congressional District Democratic Primary Election. Had the general public been voting, this would not have been an issue. In fact, it probably would have helped Peggy because it would have demonstrated her wide-ranging positive relationships as well as her independence.

In a Primary Election, however, it was the Kiss of Death. The reason was simple. The people who vote in a Primary Election are the most active and faithful members of the two respective major parties. Support for candidates on the other side - i.e., “the dark side” - simply isn’t acceptable or even tolerated. If you are disloyal and then run for office, the odds are you will lose support - if not altogether be ostracized.

So what could Peggy do when faced with this terrible political dilemma? She had three choices. First, she could have gone to the voters, told them she made a terrible mistake, and ask for their forgiveness. Had she done that, especially early in the campaign, it is likely most voters would have forgiven her. When voters are asked by candidates for forgiveness, unless murder or child abuse is involved, forgiveness usually is given. Well, at least to some extent.

Second, she could have stepped forward and said, “Yes, I did support Bill Owens for reelection and the reasons were everyone knew he was going to win, our candidates didn’t have a chance, and I thought he had done a good job in a number of areas.” She could have argued her relationship with the Governor was indicative of her ability to work with people from both sides of the aisle and promoted the idea that this was the type of person who could best win the General Election in the evenly-divided 7th C.D. as well as represent all of its interests best. This would not have been the most winning argument for 7th C.D. Democrats but it would have stopped the bleeding. And it would have strengthened her bid in the General Election if she first won the Primary.

Third, she could have denied she ever supported Owens. In the face of overwhelming evidence - including a letter from Democratic 2002 gubernatorial candidate Rollie Heath making it clear Peggy had declined to support him - Peggy made the wrong decision. Her denial was not deemed credible by a number of voters and, from that point on, her support deteriorated.

Could Peggy Lamm have won against Ed Perlmutter if the endorsement “problem” had not arisen? She definitely would have had a better chance. So now it’s on to the General Election where Democrat Ed Perlmutter faces off against Republican Rick O’Donnell in what is likely to be one of the most exciting congressional races in the country.

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