On the Road: The Colorado Senate Race

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With less than a week before November 5, the Colorado U.S. Senate race was a dead heat between Democrat Tom Strickland and incumbent Republican Wayne Allard. Control of the U.S. Senate may hinge upon who wins this battle. Rita Healy took a Denver-to-Limon, Colorado campaign bus trip with each candidate.

Twenty-five volunteers gather at 6:30 a.m. at the Highlands Ranch headquarters and listen to the volunteer coordinator's pep talk. A Denver Post photographer shoots pictures of people boarding the bus. A local reporter, his photographer and I constitute the only other media. Pre-Bus Warm-Up A couple of hundred people have gathered at 8:30 a.m. for a rush hour display of Democratic fervor at the Denver Civic Center. Speeches from Mayor Wellington Webb and U.S. Congresswoman Diana DeGette. A small band of Denver firefighters huddle behind the speakers, holding Strickland signs. They look into four T.V. cameras.
Joan and Wayne Allard board the bus last. All 25 volunteers have planted themselves at the rear, warned that the first six rows are reserved for the senator and staff. Joan is a handsome woman in black slacks, black flats, hose, and a heavy cable sweater. She says good morning to the volunteers, and then her husband climbs on. "It's really looking good," he says, waving to the back of the bus. The Allards sit in the third row back, left side. Much open space surrounds them. A volunteer tells me the senator accepts evening invitations in Washington only if his wife is invited. Family Guys Beth Strickland arrives at the rally a little late. She gives her husband a big hug and then stands with her arm draped casually through his. When it's his turn to speak, he walks forward and then stops and urges her to accompany him to the podium. Her blonde hair is caught up a little messily in a large clip on the back of her head. She appears distracted. There are three children, one still playing soccer, and mom's in school studying architecture. Her husband's campaign is just another part of a busy life.
Allard's great-great-grandfather was a trapper, miner and tie foreman when the railroads came west. That makes Allard fifth generation Colorado, an asset in a state where you still see bumper stickers proudly proclaiming "Colorado Native" against the influx of Californians and Midwesterners.

The political bug bit Allard when he took a second job, health inspector, for the city of Loveland. He did himself out of a job by pointing out that the county also had a health inspector, a regulatory redundancy. He went to the state legislature, then Congress. Six years ago he beat Strickland to win this Senate seat.

On Board the Bus Strickland, 50, likes the Rolling Stones. He never held elective office in high school, college or law school. He was a jock. He says his idealism was inspired by the Kennedys. He volunteered on various campaigns and was paid staff for Lamm. His first attempt at elective office: running for U.S. Senate in 1996 against Allard. Then he was U.S. Attorney for Colorado for two years, asking for and receiving Allard's support for his nomination.
The morning has turned gray as the bus exits I-70 into Limon. The senator and his wife go to the Community Building on D Street. About 25 people greet them. Allard goes through a whole range of topics. Of immediate concern: health insurance costs. Allard then boards the bus for the Flying J Fuel Stop. He takes the regulars by surprise, strides right in, starts shaking hands, asks the old men nursing their coffee, "Who pays the bill, Democrats or Republicans?" "Oh, we're pretty bipartisan," chuckles one. The Limon Leader arrives, a red-haired woman with a camera. "The farmers all come in here after doing chores and visit before going back out to work," she says. "A lot of these people are millionaires." Working the Crowds At the Flying J, there are eight cold people out front from Colorado State University holding Strickland signs. Strickland is introduced to the diners by a local Democrat named Brenda. He says, "All of you who didn't plan on a political event this morning and just want breakfast, we'll be respectful of that." No one's turned off the country western jukebox in the background. He doesn't speak long, and then he shakes hands. To a woman diner he demonstrates that he's up on local news, "What's the latest on the prison guard who was killed here?" A volunteer whispers something in his ear, and he walks over to a table and sits down to chat with some older people finishing up their eggs.
This is the most expensive senate race in the state's history, expected to top $9 million, Allard having received $4.85 million, Strickland $4.24 million. The Denver Post has endorsed Strickland. There's a sense within the Allard campaign that there's trouble, and Allard doesn't sparkle. But he's solid enough, senatorial. If an orthodontist/ podiatrist/veterinarian type guy isn't the most creative legislator in the world, there's also a sense of reliability about him. No Russian spy will ever seduce Wayne Allard. He's bedrock. Overview and Prognosis He's got to out-live accusations of being a Boulder Democrat (an obscenity outstate in other parts of the state), a millionaire lawyer-lobbyist, a glamor boy of the Robert Redford/Gloria Steinem ilk. To this end, the tall, lanky former football player is dressed in cords and a letter jacket with Fire Fighters embossed on the back. He stresses his centrist positions. He IS self-made, having grown up in a middle class home, and he could impress the small towns as a kind of local boy made good. He might win, he might not. Either way, he says he'll be O.K.