Aaron's Real Opinions:

Bill Ritter's Big Surprise
by Aaron Harber
November 8, 2006 - Print Article

Part 1: Why Ritter Was Such A Good Candidate

Many long-time political pundits ate their words uttered in 2005 when, two years later, Bill Ritter, the former District Attorney for the First Judicial District (the City & County of Denver) coasted to a huge victory on Election Night. Initially not taken seriously by any “political expert,” Ritter deployed the tortoise-and-hare approach and, step-by-step, won the race over a two-year period. What did he do right?

1. Ritter started early. He knew he needed the time to organize a statewide campaign and to convince political leaders and media pundits he was a credible candidate.

2. Ritter locked up support in the City & County of Denver and then made similar inroads across the State. When others later considered the race, they were impressed with how many people were already committed to Ritter.

3. Ritter drew from his strengths. He had a great life story and used it. Born on a Colorado farm, he had spent a good portion of his life helping others - including service overseas. He always worked hard and it showed. Ritter also used his management experience to build a top-notch campaign management team. Although many Democratic “pros” held off while bigger names were considering the race, Ritter got the best people available and they rose to the challenge under his leadership. Soon, everyone else came onboard when it became obvious he was going to be the nominee and he magnanimously welcomed them, too.

4. He kept his eye on the prize - i.e., winning the November 7th election - by staying consistent on issues which made him a good General Election candidate but a poor Primary Election candidate. For example, being an anti-abortion candidate was an anathema in the Democratic Party but it was a factor which made him a very centrist candidate, which is ideal for a Democrat running in a statewide election. With a strong “Law & Order” background as a District Attorney who put criminals behind bars, Ritter was the perfect “tough” Democrat to win a General Election in Colorado.

5. Ritter was consistent in his response to potential opponents. He made it clear he was in the race to stay and they would be in for a tough fight. Many of the better-known prospective candidates wanted the nomination handed to them. They understandably believed any kind of contested primary would make the winner too weak to prevail in the General Election. Knowing Ritter was an obstacle, some concluded it wasn’t worth the risk.

6. When an onslaught of other names was paraded before the public - Colorado Senate President Joan Fitzgerald, Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, House Majority Leader Alice Madden, Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, U.S. Senator Ken Salazar, and Congressman Mark Udall, among many others - Ritter kept his cool and didn’t get upset by the “Anybody But Bill” campaign being conducted by those Democrats who couldn’t stomach the thought of nominating a man to lead their party who was anti-abortion.

7. He got lucky. Multimillionaire entrepreneur Rutt Bridges entered the race and was set to face- off in the Primary Election against Ritter and was likely to get many Democratic votes just due to Ritter’s anti-abortion stance. After a few months of campaigning, Bridges concluded he did not want to seek the office and dropped out of the race.

8. Ritter also was fortunate to benefit from a national Democratic tide which helped Democrats in many races across the country but his margin of victory greatly exceeded any boost he received from “The Blue Wave” of 2006.

Ritter’s timing, however accidental, was phenomenal. His hard work and patience paid off. In a matter of months, he went from a candidate who wasn’t taken seriously to a runaway winner in what had been projected to be a close race.

Part 2: History Lesson Lost On Beauprez

Many political experts thought the gubernatorial race was Bob Beauprez’s to lose - and, surprisingly, he did just that. Beauprez was an incumbent Congressman who had won a tough race by only 121 votes in the first-ever election in 2002 for Colorado’s new 7th Congressional District - a district with almost 700,000 residents. He had won a four-person Republican primary and came out of that election at full throttle - taking on his well-known and well-liked Democratic opponent, Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley. It was Feeley who was defeated by Beauprez in the General Election.

In 2004, Beauprez ran for reelection against Democratic nominee Dave Thomas. Thomas had impressive credentials as the District Attorney in the judicial district which includes and is dominated by Jefferson County. Beauprez’s campaign attacked Thomas for a series of decisions made by the D.A.’s office and the result was an overwhelming 30,000-vote margin for Beauprez - just two years after winning by only 121 votes.

Now running in a statewide race in 2006, Beauprez started off with a Republican voter registration advantage of over 170,000 - far above Bill Owen’ 8,300-vote margin of victory in 1998, when he first won the race for Governor against then Lt. Governor Gail Schoettler. Beauprez was well-liked and considered successful in office after having served as the Colorado Republican Party’s Chairman. A successful businessman who was a dairy farmer, an established family man, and a Colorado native, Beauprez offered Coloradans the kind of executive leadership most voters desire.

Other top-rank Republicans stepped aside for Beauprez and all but handed him the nomination. Prominent Republicans such as former Congressman Scott McInnis, former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Lt. Governor Jane Norton, and State Treasurer Mike Coffman all yielded to Beauprez (and some regret their decision today). The maverick who didn’t, however, was former University of Denver President Marc Holtzman. Holtzman wanted to lead the Republican Party in a new direction and had no compunction about taking on Beauprez.

What was interesting is Beauprez took Holtzman’s challenge so seriously it resulted in the misdirection of Beauprez’s campaign - throwing it off its potentially successful track. This was the first indication that Beauprez was not getting or taking good advice.

A similar situation had just occurred two years ago. Comparing the 2006 gubernatorial race to the 2004 U.S. Senate race, well-known, well-liked, and well-respected Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar faced a tough, intra-party challenge from Mike Miles, even after the other Democratic heavyweights such as Congressman Mark Udall and entrepreneur Rutt Bridges had stepped aside for Salazar. In 2006, Holtzman was the Republican version of Miles - a candidate who was a vehicle for change and who was trying to steer a new course for his party.

Salazar all but ignored Miles and refused to be pulled in any significant way to the Left as a means to snare Democratic Primary Election voters. Salazar maintained his centrist positions with a view towards the General Election, when everyone voted. Miles worked hard and convinced the Democratic Party faithful to support him. A majority did exactly that at the State Convention and surprised the pundits by giving Miles top-line designation. Salazar, however, wasn’t fazed and maintained the centrist position he knew he needed to have in order to win the General Election. Salazar went on to handily defeat Miles in the Primary Election by an overwhelming margin of 73% to 27% (173,0167 to 63,973 votes out of 237,140 cast). Beauprez, however, did not follow the same course.

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