NEW AT COOKPOLITICAL.COM
October 22, 2009
CO-04: Betsy Markey (D) ? Eastern third: Fort Collins, Greeley
Toss Up. Republicans say Markey didn't win this seat in 2008 so much as her predecessor, polarizing former GOP Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, lost it. Musgrave, whose focus on social issues alienated much of the district's suburban and younger electorate around Fort Collins and Greeley, did not have the advantage of a third party candidate on the ballot to split her opposition as she had enjoyed in the past. In the end, Markey walloped her 56 to 44 percent, even as McCain carried the district narrowly.
In 2010, Markey will have to prove she can win when the spotlight is on her. National Democrats and a host of allied interest groups were so fixated on attacking Musgrave in 2008 that GOP attacks on Markey didn't receive a ton of attention. Now, Republicans will try to turn the tables on Markey by painting her as too liberal for the district and a foot soldier for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Unlike some other freshman Democratic colleagues from districts carried by McCain, Markey has not broken from the Democratic line on many legislative items thus far. After unveiling her sponsorship of the Employee Free Choice Act, or "card check," Markey voted for Democrats' "cap and trade" energy bill.
GOP insiders have coalesced around state Rep. Cory Gardner, a rising star in the state party with deep roots in the district's heavily GOP eastern plains. Gardner posted an impressive $280,000 in the bank at the end of September. Some Fort Collins-area conservatives have touted Colorado University Board of Regents member and higher education reformer Tom Lucero, but Lucero's poor fundraising raises questions about whether he can give Gardner a race at all. Former Fort Collins Councilman Diggs Brown, who is currently deployed in the U.S. Army Special Forces, is also mentioned but would get a late start if he decides to run.
In many respects, Gardner is a rock star among early GOP recruits. A polished candidate who lacks an extensive legislative voting record, Gardner has lived in both the suburban and rural portions of the district and focuses on taxes and spending rather than the social issues that defined Musgrave's tenure. Democrats hinted at their early concern by hitting Gardner's campaign manager for telling a local newspaper Gardner found it curious President Obama couldn't produce an original copy of his birth certificate. But Gardner has disavowed that notion and the "birther" allegation is unlikely to play a big role in the race.
Markey raised a healthy $978,000 in the first three quarters of 2009, demonstrating that she is gearing up for a tough reelection race. But Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter's sagging popularity and a likely downturn in turnout among college students and other youth voters in Fort Collins and Greeley are real threats to Markey in their own rights. If Gardner can consolidate support by the time of the district GOP conventions and save his firepower for the general election, this should be one of the top tier races in the country.