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Democrat candidates barnstorm Pagosa Springs

In an almost 11th hour attempt to drum up enthusiasm for a get out to vote effort, major Democratic candidates stopped in Pagosa Springs Tuesday morning, hoping to close the so-called “enthusiasm gap” that polls and the media have said favors Republicans in the midterm elections.

In fact, with just days before the election, polls have indicated that the Republican advantage, held since early summer, has dissipated to a significant degree (apparently still poised to retake the U.S. House, however).

It was with that reinvigorated energy and optimism that a large bus pulled up to Farrago’s restaurant, delivering staff and candidates to Archuleta County voters. Those candidates — John Hickenlooper and running mate Joe Garcia (for governor and Lt. Gov.) and John Salazar (for U.S. Congress, Colorado District 3) — were met by candidates for local and state offices: Fred Uehling (for Archuleta County Assessor), Brian O’Donnell (for Colorado House District 59) and Bruce Whitehead (for Colorado Senate District 6).

Despite temperatures indicating that winter is just around the corner, the rally attracted around 50 local residents, including local government officials, to hear the candidates give brief appeals to the crowd, each speaking to the importance of not just voting on Nov. 2, but also encouraging audience members to knock on doors and make phone calls to get out the vote for Democratic candidates.

Opening for the Democrats, O’Donnell stated that he was “the true moderate” in the race, while his opponent (Republican J. Paul Brown) was known for his extreme — and extremist — views on various issues important to this election.

Placing the blame for the current national economic crisis on Republican fiscal and regulatory policies, O’Donnell suggested that a vote out of anger or frustration at the current situation would only return the country, and the state, to those same policies. Appealing for patience and persistence with the country’s direction, O’Donnell added, “I’d like to see an economy in Pagosa Springs where kids can afford to stay here and make a living.”

Uehling followed with a brief resume and why he felt he was the best candidate. Taking several questions from the audience, Uehling stated that, regarding the recently cancelled senior citizens property tax discount, “I’d like to see that come back at some point.”

Uehling acknowledged also that, while the current state-mandated formula for figuring property tax was not fair, there was little he could do about it at the local level, other than applying it with careful consideration.

Still awaiting the arrival of Hickenlooper and Salazar, Whitehead took the microphone next to describe his accomplishments during his short tenure with the state senate (he was appointed to his seat last year when Jim Isgar, the sitting Senator, took a position with the USDA).

“My opponent has said she opposes stimulus money from the recovery act,” Whitehead said, referring to Republican candidate Ellen Roberts, “while I have actively fought for that money to help the citizens in southwest Colorado.”

Soon after the bus arrived, Garcia addressed the audience, stressing that, as president of Colorado State-Pueblo, education was a primary concern of his. Having been selected by Hickenlooper as the Lt. Gov. last August, it was Garcia’s first opportunity to speak to Archuleta County voters as a candidate.

Up next and in a demonstration of his willingness to reach across the aisle, Salazar invited Archuleta County Commissioner Bob Moomaw and Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon (both Republicans) to join him as he spoke, thanking the mayor for his continued support.

In an interview following the rally, Salazar said, “I think it’s important to reach across party lines, and that’s what makes us different,” referring to his opponent, Republican Scott Tipton (who had addressed the Archuleta County Republican Women on Oct. 12).

“I’m working for Main Street and he’s working for Wall Street,” he added. “I believe in helping middle-class families in this county.”

Salazar also commented on Tipton’s criticism of stimulus money from the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), while Triad Western, a Durango company owned by Tipton’s family members, benefitted from $11.5 million in ARRA funds.

“That company actually created jobs, so the stimulus worked,” Salazar said. “I voted for it (ARRA) and I’m proud I voted for it. Stimulus dollars actually created jobs.”

In a Tuesday phone interview, Tipton responded, “As you know ... I’m not part of that company. It’s just another desperate attempt by John Salazar to distract from the issues. He voted for the stimulus and we still have 9.7 … 17 percent unemployment. The stimulus hasn’t worked.”

In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office stated earlier this year that the stimulus created an estimated 1.4 million to 3.3 million jobs since the middle of 2009.

It was Salazar’s first time speaking to Archuleta County voters in this election cycle. Tipton has also visited the county once during this election.

A Salazar re-election team will return to Archuleta County at 10 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 1, also at Farrago’s, including former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer and Secretary of the Interior (and former U.S. Senator) Ken Salazar.

Finally, Hickenlooper addressed the crowd, speaking with the ease of a candidate who is well ahead in the polls: A 9News/Denver Post poll from last Sunday had Hickenlooper ahead of former Republican and new American Constitutional Party candidate Tom Tancredo by 10 points and 30 points ahead of Republican candidate Dan Maes.

Crediting his commitment to not go negative in campaign ads, Hickenlooper told the crowd, “We’re going to be the first campaign to run a positive statewide campaign and win.”

“November second isn’t the end,” he added, “it’s the beginning. We need Democrats, Republicans and Independents, working together.”

“We can make state government be a place for innovation,” Hickenlooper said, in reference to jobs creation and smaller, more efficient government.

Later, when asked by SUN staff if he’d support a “disclosure rule” for campaign financing in the state (requiring transparency for all campaign donations), Hickenlooper replied, “I think corporations have the right to support a campaign with money, I think individuals have the right. But I think a board of directors should make the decision if a corporation is going to make a donation. And I think that if individuals are going to donate money, it should be clear who they are. So yes, I’d advocate and support that (disclosure rule).”

With less than a week to go before election day, the Democrats are hoping that last-minute efforts to get out the vote will move voters to the polls to pull a ‘D’ lever.

jim@pagosasun.com