GOP Marks Markey Near Top of Territory to Regain

Freshman Likely to Face Top-Tier Challenge

Colorado’s 4th district has become a perennial battleground in recent cycles, and it will be again in 2010, even though now-Rep. Betsy Markey (D) ousted Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) by a surprisingly large 12-point margin there last November.

National Democrats admitted as much when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee quickly moved this year to add Markey’s name to its “Frontline— program, which raises money for vulnerable incumbents.

Republicans firmly believe that the conservative 4th district, which had elected a Republican Member to Congress for 37 years before Markey’s victory, should still be in GOP hands.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) narrowly won the 4th in last year’s presidential contest and GOP operatives are quick to blame the party’s poor showing on the outspoken Musgrave, who became a target of liberal interest groups especially over her role in the toxic debate over gay marriage early in her Congressional career.

Musgrave — who recently signed on as project director of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List — said Monday that she’s unsure whether she’d run again. But party insiders seem to be looking elsewhere as they contemplate 2010.

Among the politicians that have been mentioned by party strategists in Colorado and Washington, D.C., the man who seems to be generating the most talk is state Rep. Cory Gardner (R).

Gardner has served in the GOP leadership in Colorado’s General Assembly and his state legislative district includes a large number of the 4th Congressional district’s eastern counties. In an interview, he was quick to bring up his rural roots while insinuating that Markey’s support stems mostly from Fort Collins and Larimer County, which was the only county in the district that Obama won last year.

Gardner said Monday that his candidacy, should he decide to run, would have “a district-wide appeal.—

“He’s not only a credible legislator but has been a model for Republicans,— Floyd Ciruli, an independent pollster based in Denver, said of Gardner. The state legislator is “someone from the Eastern part of the district but yet able to do well and not completely die in Larimer, which is what happened to [Musgrave]. ... I don’t think he has much of an identity [in Fort Collins], on the other hand I don’t think he necessarily is going to raise the hackles that— Musgrave did in that part of the district.

A National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman called Gardner “a rising star among a deep bench of strong Republican talent in Colorado.—

One other Republican being mentioned for the party nomination is businessman Tom Lucero, who has twice served on the University of Colorado Board of Regents. Lucero, who formed an exploratory committee in December, was the first Republican in the race, and he’s been busy building a campaign and finance team over the past two months.

There’s been some talk among Republicans about drafting Fort Collins City Council member Diggs Brown into the race. Brown, a major in the National Guard, is currently serving overseas in Africa but at this point in the cycle he’s the only other potential candidate besides Gardner to have met with the NRCC.

Other possible Republican candidates include former Weld County Commissioner Bill Jerke, state Sen. Greg Brophy and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck.

“We will have a spirited primary for our nomination but whoever emerges will be a stark contrast to Betsy Markey who has shown she is nothing but a toady for [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.], labor and left-wing groups,— said Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams. “She ran a fraudulent campaign as a moderate in this last election and she is anything but.—

Ciruli said since her election Markey has been maintaining a lot of visibility back home. Her spokesman Ben Marter was quick to point out that the Congresswoman prides herself on always returning to the Centennial State when she’s not in Washington to vote.

She’ll need to keep those efforts up.

According to the latest voter registration numbers in the state, Republicans held an advantage of nearly 37,000 voters in the 4th district. Meanwhile, Markey won’t have President Barack Obama on the ballot in 2010 and that could hurt Democratic turnout among younger voters next year.

But as his recent visit to the Centennial State showed, Obama continues to believe Colorado is an important battleground state. And with a key re-election race for Gov. Bill Ritter (D) shaping up next year along with a Senate race for appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D), a lot of national focus will remain on Colorado, which could help Markey in terms of exposure and fundraising.

DCCC spokesman Andy Stone said the party is pleased with Markey’s early efforts to prepare for 2010.

“Congresswoman Markey’s doing a great job on behalf of her constituents, introducing legislation to cut taxes for small businesses and passing a measure ensuring small towns receive increased access to wastewater treatment funds,— Stone said. “Markey’s efforts to reach out to Coloradans and work for them make it clear why she’ll be back next Congress.—