What the Oughts Brought: Part One

Now that 2010 is here (and most of you are back to work after the holidays), it’s time to take our look back on the decade that was.

We asked your opinions on what the Oughts Brought, and now it’s time to start revealing the winners. We’ll be here with this all week, folks, so check back for more categories every day.

Best/Worst Politician and Best/Worst Campaign awards after the jump.

BEST POLITICIAN

Ken Salazar (D)

This might be the easiest choice on the entire list (well, after “Worst Campaign,” that is). At the beginning of the decade Ken Salazar was Colorado’s Attorney General, preparing for a re-election run in 2002. Now? He’s eighth in line to succeed the President of the United States.

Salazar’s U.S. Senate victory in 2004 was the first major success by Democrats in Colorado in a decade, and during the 2008 Presidential election his name was floated as a potential choice for Vice President; had Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination for President, Salazar very well could have been the V.P.

Had Salazar run for re-election to the Senate this year, he would have been a virtual lock to win a second term. But in 2009 he was confirmed as United States Secretary of the Interior, where he has overseen major overhauls of land policy already. Salazar is becoming a major player in national politics, and he has so much juice in Colorado that he could pretty much win whatever race he wanted. But don’t expect him back anytime soon–it’s no stretch to think that Salazar could be a top contender for President in 2016.

RUNNER UP: Former Republican Gov. Bill Owens, the last true star for Colorado Republicans. Not coincidentally, Owens did not believe in the “drown government in a bathtub” philosophy that exists among many current Republicans and actually sought to govern in what he thought was in the state’s best interests. He wasn’t always right, but at least his answer to every question wasn’t the robotic “cut taxes, cut spending” mantra of today’s GOP–and that’s why he left office in 2007 with pretty strong approval ratings.

HONORABLE MENTION: State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who created Amendment 23 (love it or hate it, the measure has been important) and ran a seamless campaign in 2006, is in a great position to be Colorado’s first female governor in 2014.

WORST POLITICIAN

Marilyn Musgrave (R)

The very definition of being a bad politician is losing a safe seat because of your own dumbass mistakes, and former CD-4 Rep. Marilyn Musgrave fits this description perfectly. Musgrave was embarrassingly ungracious in defeat when she lost in 2008 to Democrat Betsy Markey, though she was the only person surprised that she lost despite the 57-43 blowout margin. The fact that she was apparently shocked to have lost in 2008 shows just how out of touch she really was, since polls had indicated for weeks that Musgrave was dead.

As a two-term incumbent in a district with a heavy Republican voter-registration advantage, Musgrave should never have lost this seat. But she was completely tone-deaf to the issues that actually mattered to people, never morseo than when she publicly declared that “Gay Marriage” was the most important issue facing America today. Gay marriage may have been important to some of her constituents–although those people were always going to vote for her anyway–but Musgrave never seemed to understand that social issues were most assuredly not the main problems people were facing in their lives. Markey ran a strong campaign in winning this seat, but Musgrave lost her job over a period of a few years by not paying attention to the real interests of her district.

RUNNER UP:Former Republican state Sen. John Andrews, whose ultra right-wing nonsense has doomed every GOP politician who ever listened to what he had to say. If you were going to blame just one person for the Republican’s troubles in the last decade–though many people contributed to their fall–you could definitely pin the tail on Andrews. It was Andrews who drove the GOP off of a cliff with his leadership of the state Senate at the beginning of the decade; his obsession with social issues and his expressed belief that government sucks (including his desire to abolish public education altogether) didn’t sit well with a voting populace that kind of wanted their government to, you know, fix actual problems.

DIS-HONORABLE MENTION:Republican Bob Schaffer, who started the decade in Congress but ended it by failing to win two different U.S. Senate races, including a blowout loss in 2008 to Democrat Mark Udall. Schaffer is the embodiment of the problems with the Colorado Republican Party, from an obsession with social issues to massive self-inflicted wounds.

BEST CAMPAIGN

John Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor, 2003

In 2002, nobody outside of a small circle of folks in Denver had any idea what a Hickenlooper was; by late 2005, Hickenlooper was so popular that his approval rating–and this is completely absurd–was in the 80s across the Front Range. Hickenlooper and his staff did it by turning him into an incredibly likable and approachable character, but also by paying attention to small issues.

Hickenlooper’s campaign was brilliant in its simplicity-a simplicity that too many Colorado politicians have yet failed to emulate. Hickenlooper eschewed the traditional and tired campaign ads of speaking into a camera and talking about Denver for a more playful approach that helped him stick out in a qualified, but boring, field of candidates.

But the real genius was his focus on everyday issues in which every voter could relate: Parking meters. People were angry about an increase in the rate for parking meters in Denver, so Hickenlooper pledged to reduce them and told voters about it in a classic ad where he walked around town placing coins in expired meters. “Vote for me, and I’ll make parking meters cheaper,” wasn’t exactly John Kennedy-esque, but to the average voter it made a lot of sense. Or cents. Sure, there were bigger issues in Denver, but Hickenlooper’s campaign never forgot that the vast majority of voters don’t pay that much attention to politics–and that everybody uses parking meters.

RUNNER UP: Ed Perlmutter (D), CD-7, 2006. In 2004, Republican Bob Beauprez was re-elected in CD-7 with 55% of the vote. Two years later, Perlmutter’s well-oiled campaign crushed Republican candidate Rick O’Donnell 54-42–despite the fact that Perlmutter first had to win a tough and expensive primary challenge–to make him the first Democrat to hold the seat. Perlmutter’s 2006 campaign and subsequent strong fundraising were so impressive that Republicans didn’t even bother mounting a serious challenge in 2008, despite the fact that CD-7 is a relatively competitive district by voter registration.

HONORABLE MENTION: Wayne Allard, U.S. Senate (2002). “Lawyer, lobbyist,” the oft-chanted slogan used by Allard’s campaign to describe Democrat Tom Strickland in 1996 (borrowed from Strickland’s Democratic challenger Gene Nichols) and again in 2002, became one of the most effective memorable slogans in Colorado political history.  Allard didn’t win this race because of his charisma; indeed, he was so dull and ineffective in the U.S. Senate that TIME magazine later dubbed him “The Invisible Man” and one of the country’s five worst Senators. But what Allard’s campaign did do was relentlessly brand Strickland as a “lawyer lobbyist” while keeping a laser focus on a strong voter turnout effort. Strickland was much more charismatic and was a relentless fundraiser, but Allard’s campaign was a machine.

WORST CAMPAIGN

Bob Beauprez (R), Governor, 2006

This one is an absolute no-brainer. Nevermind the decade–Beauprez’s 2006 campaign for governor might be the worst statewide campaign ever in Colorado.

Beauprez was actually considered to be a very tough opponent when he first started running in 2005, and early polls had him ahead of everyone not named John Hickenlooper.  After two terms in Congress, including being named to the influential Ways & Means Committee, Beauprez was thought to be a formidable statewide candidate. But it turns out that running your own statewide campaign is different than having big brains from D.C. run your races for Congress.

“Both Ways Bob” (has there ever been a more fitting nickname?) couldn’t make up his mind on anything. And when he did make a decision, he usually made sure to stick his foot in his mouth.  Beauprez’s campaign was so terrible that a race that should have been competitive was pretty much over before September. And to make matters worse for Republicans, what likely would have been a safe congressional seat in CD-7 had Beauprez not left ended up going to Democrat Ed Perlmutter in a landslide. Beauprez singlehandedly cost Republicans two of Colorado’s 10 biggest political seats in 2006, which will be hard for anyone to top.

RUNNER UP: Bob Beauprez (R), Governor, 2006. Beauprez’s run was so bad that it’s just not fair to list a runner up and even place another campaign nearby.

DIS-HONORABLE MENTION: Mark Hillman (R), State Treasurer, 2006. The former Senate Majority and Minority Leader was considered one of the GOP’s brightest stars when he was appointed State Treasurer in 2005 while Mike Coffman served in Iraq. Hillman soon announced plans to run for the job when Coffman was term-limited in 2006, but his bizarre inability to manage campaign funds cost him the election.

Both Hillman and Democrat Cary Kennedy accepted voluntary spending limits, which restricted them to spending about $500,000 in total. By July 2006 Hillman had somehow already spent more than a third of that limit, while Kennedy’s campaign was scrimping and saving every dime for television ads in the fall. Kennedy ultimately won a close election, no doubt pushed over the edge by the fact that she was able to advertise on TV much more regularly than Hillman.

Colorado is probably better off anyway; after all, who wants a Treasurer who can’t handle a budget?

31 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Thank you for mentioning Wayne Allard as one of the best campaigns – I couldn’t agree more

  2. onebigrepublican says:

    Musgrave herself was not as bad as the advice that she took.  As with any elected official there are many times you are only as good as the advice you are given.  I agree with the assessment mostly, but wasn’t she a three term incumbent in a safe seat?  If you never had the chance to deal with her Chief of Staff consider yourself lucky.  Very ego driven to say the least.

    Beauprez should still be placing his campaign manager John Marshall on a list of people to get even with.  

    Those television ads snuck up on Hillman.

    Bob Schaffer should have never kept his term limits pledge.  His chances in 08 would have been much better if he would have been a sitting Congressman.  Hardly a voter remembered that he kept the pledge, and I’m certain few would have remembered that he didn’t.  

    • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

      But we always found it odd that she was so devastated by losing in 2008 because polls showed for a long time beforehand that she was in trouble. The fact that Musgrave may have really thought she would win says a lot about how clueless she was.

      • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

        Musgrave selected who to hire and who to listen to. So the ultimate responsibility is hers.

      • sxp151 says:

        Nobody was predicting the blowout that happened. Polls had them much closer. And she’d pulled ahead in 2006 from a deficit that seemed similar.

        • onebigrepublican says:

          I think those ads that she put out in the final days caused even some faithful to abandon ship and go Markey.  That was a poor move on many levels, but when you know you are going to lose and you still put ads like that out she completely stained an already tarnished political legacy.

          • sxp151 says:

            I thought all of Musgrave’s ads were odious, so I’m wondering what was special about the ones you’re referring to.

            • RedGreenRedGreen says:

              That ad was embarrassing coming from a sitting member of Congress and turned off a load of fence-sitters.

              • sxp151 says:

                but I thought this one about Paccione’s student loans was pretty low too (and it also had Musgrave’s name on it).

                • RedGreenRedGreen says:

                  was a traditional, hard-hitting (below-the-belt) negative ad. The lie-detector ad had a lot of people doing double-takes and asking, “Is that a real ad?!” (This is no exaggeration, because when it first aired on a Friday night I got a half dozen calls and as many e-mails asking exactly that.)

                  • onebigrepublican says:

                    The difference between the Paccione ad was that it was based in fact while the Markey ad was riddled with circumstance and no facts.  I don’t care if I was a point behind and that type of ad would have assured a win.  I would not have run an ad like that against any opponent.  It was disgraceful.   Musgrave was not only a point behind, she was double digit points behind, and she still was advised to run those ads.  You are right, ultimately the Member is culpable.  

                  • Middle of the Road says:

                    let’s not forget the flier Musgrave sent out that made Stan Matsunaka look an awful lot like a foreign born terrorist (amazing what a little photoshopping and darkening can do). And then there was the 527 ad that showed Musgrave picking the pocket of a dead vet in a coffin. What is it about CD4 and tasteless ads? Our district should win a special prize in the “Ongoing Tasteless Department.”

                    • onebigrepublican says:

                      I love the “pink lady” ads!  They were hillarious.  I still go to YouTube just to watch them now and again.

                    • Pam Bennett says:

                      Time will provide the answer as to whether or not the teabaggers have the money to put out very stiffly pointed ads as bad as the CD4 “my opponent will strip the pants off the dead” ad.

    • Ralphie says:

      Musgrave herself was not as bad as the advice that she took.

      She was worse.

  3. BlueCat says:

    It should be noted that Salazar, as AG, saved us from what happened in Texas.  No Salazar, no telling how Dems would have faired in Texas style GOP re-districting.  Certainly there would have been no chance for an Ed Perlmuttter in a GOP drawn CD7.

    As a Senator, Salazar certainly disappointed me in allowing himself to be used to so strongly promote fellow Hispanic Gonzales for US AG and in his support for the awful bankruptcy bill, so unfair to ordinary Americans. But most of his votes (maybe 85%?) were fine and we here in Colorado have to give him a lot of credit for his contribution to stunning Dem gains. Also think he is doing a very good job for us at Interior.

    • RedGreenRedGreen says:

      for having helped deliver two Democrats into Congress in seats formerly held by Republicans.

      While the Salazar Brothers’ 2004 run was a joint effort, sitting Attorney General Ken Salazar had the political muscle that helped his brother, John, get the nomination and cruise to victory in the 3rd District. It’s the closest thing Colorado has had to a political dynasty in a long time (the Groffs come closest in recent memory; the Lamms came close but couldn’t get that second family member elected after two tries).

      And, of course, Betsy Markey earned her political wings under Salazar’s tutelage, and then the senator weighed in on spurious Musgrave charges at a crucial point in the ’08 campaign.

      No Ken Salazar, and those two seats could easily still be Republican.

      • The realistThe realist says:

        I think Ken Salazar has done more than we know to help move Dem candidates in Colorado into office.  He has off-the-chart political instincts, and has lent his support to candidates at all levels (those likely to win, and those perhaps not as likely to win).  I’m guessing that, in the same way, he’s probably accomplishing far more at Interior than we know.

        • BlueCat says:

          The story of the incredible turn around in our congressional delegation make-up and the rise of Colorado Dems in general cannot be told without frequent, prominent mention of Ken Salazar. A DeGette may more often vote the way I would prefer than Ken Salazar did as Senator but all the Degettes in the world couldn’t have done for Colorado Dems and beyond what Ken Salazar has done. And he does it without any claims to charisma or inspirational speaking. He’s got to be the most unassuming mover and shaker ever.

  4. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    Bill Ritter is the Rodney Dangerfield of Colorado politics – he can’t get any respect. But he’s doing very well at a difficult job in a horrible economy.

    • BlueCat says:

      That’s not the same thing as being a good Governor.  Overlapping but not the same. From the bitterness he engendered with his veto of Dem labor legislation with no apparent effort to keep it from getting to that point in the first place to the bitterness he engendered when, seemingly out of the blue, he appointed Bennet who wasn’t on any Dem short lists, never mind not appointing Romanoff, he hasn’t exactly wowed with political finesse in office.

    • Jack Burden says:

      I’ve spoken to a lot of activists who wish that there was a Republican in the Governor’s Mansion right now. It’s a lot easier to fundraise and wage a loud war against budget cuts when you don’t expect your enemy to be your ally down the road.

      Ritter’s not charismatic in any traditional sense of the word, but he embodies what’s expected of a Western Governor. His political career will probably end after a second turn, but I think that’s ok. Hopefully he’ll take some risks following his reelection.  

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