With the clock ticking for Democrats to find a viable challenger to Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) — whose vocal opposition to gay marriage has made her one of the biggest lightning rods for controversy in Congress — their hopes appear to rest on two vastly different state legislators.
One is a former self-described “athletic missionary” and college professor, and the other is a colorful rancher whose plans could include campaigning across the sprawling 4th district with a mule named Marvin.
“Clearly it’s a targeted seat,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg, who added that the demographics in the heavily Republican district were shifting in the Democrats’ favor. “We think she’s very vulnerable.”
But even though the two-term Representative won re-election with just 51 percent of the vote in November and is listed on the Republican leadership’s most vulnerable incumbents list, there is plenty of doubt that the Democrats can make a real run at Musgrave.
“Once you become vulnerable you stay vulnerable unless you win really big,” said Floyd Ciruli, an independent pollster in Denver. “This will be her test election.”
But Ciruli added: “It will take a tremendous confluence of good fortune for the Democrats” to win.
Leading the list of potential contenders is state Rep. Angie Paccione (D), a born-again Christian and former USA women’s basketball team member, who has served as an athletic missionary throughout Europe. Paccione, who describes herself as biracial, launched an exploratory committee earlier this month and is polling in the district because the “people of the 4th have asked me to take a look at running.”
Paccione, who said she first wants to see how well her profile resonates in the district before throwing her hat in the ring, plans to make a decision on the race by the end of July. At the moment, Paccione, who is a research associate at Colorado State University, is widely viewed as having an advantage when it comes to organization and personal drive.
“Maybe a better candidate will come along but I haven’t seen it,” said Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Pat Waak.
Another potential contender is state Rep. Wes McKinley, a self-described “Bible-thumpin’, whiskey-drinkin’, gun-totin’ Democrat.”
In news accounts, McKinley suggested that he may defer to Paccione should she prove the stronger candidate against Musgrave. But the cattle rancher sounded a slightly more combative note in a recent interview.
“Angie can’t even ride a mule,” he said. “She’s terrific, but in order to win she’d have to dribble a basketball all across this district.”
McKinley said his beast of burden was one of several factors he had working in his favor, in addition to his “loyal dog” and “a hardworking wife.” The 14-year-old mule, who goes by Marvin, may play a role on campaign stops across the district, McKinley said.
But despite his optimism, McKinley didn’t sound as if he was in much of a hurry to make a decision on the race, noting that his priorities this summer were “fixing fence and getting the cows branded and castrated.”
Both candidates have potential weaknesses.
While McKinley’s politics may be closer ideologically to the district’s, Ciruli said, “the first impression he leaves is that he is just really colorful. ... Maybe just a little bit too eccentric.”
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.