Jerry Kopel

The preliminaries are over. It's B.B. vs. R.R. for governor. What's the political strategy between now and November 8th? Since no one has asked for my opinion, this advice is free, and may be worth the price.

Imagine the Colorado electorate as a circle and cut the circle in half. If the election was based on which side traditionally had the heaviest number of votes in Colorado, the half-side on the right would win.

Bruce Benson doesn't have to worry about the far right and Roy Romer doesn't have to worry about the far left. Neither extreme has anywhere to go...there are no viable third parties to drain votes. The only possible down-side would be those voters staying home if their candidate caused them to feel alienated.

It's Romer's goal to capture the center and the "right" closest to center. It's Benson's goal to capture the center. That suggests the weeks to come will see trench warfare on a massive World War I scale, with money instead of men as the casualties.

Democrats should not be alarmed over news stories of Romer ads boasting how he stood up against the "liberals" on crime issues. That's going to be standard for this campaign.

Romer has always been a conservative Democrat and he has had to spend an enormous amount of energy in the past in Democratic legislative caucuses convincing other Democrats that he is not a Republican. But his history in Colorado politics almost from the beginning shows his natural home is slightly right of center.

Benson seems to be convinced that victory will follow a massive frontal assault, and he'll lob money on themes to prove Romer is really left of center and out of touch with the majority.

If Benson was really a gambler, he'd launch a U.S. Marine attack at Inchon, North Korea a la Gen. Douglas MacArthur.... in other words catch Romer unguarded in the rear. It could be issues of early education funding, greater minority business entrepreneurship, stronger consumer credit rights. This would be so unexpected as to cause confusion among Romer supporters and force Romer to spend some effort on revisiting left of center.

Both candidates are multi-millionaires, but Romer could really emphasize the difference between them: Romer is frugal, Benson is not. Both candidates certainly took what fate gave them and improved on it considerably, but Romer did it with greater caution. I'm really surprised the Romer campaigns , present and past, haven't used frugality as a campaign asset. Some examples:

  • Benson loaned his campaign a million dollars. Romer will depend on the largess of others. Frugality.

  • In past Romer campaigns (not for governor) Roy and Bea would be at the football stadium in Boulder handing out paper sun-visors with the Romer name quite visible...a good gimmick. After the game people would leave the visors in or at the stadium. Roy and Bea would stay behind , sift through the discards and reclaim the useable ones, to be handed out at the next event. Frugality.

  • On a personal note, Bea gave us a puppy from their Samoyed litter when our son David was very young, so we could help David overcome his fear of dogs. It worked. Decades later, when I mentioned it to Romer at a leadership meeting in his office, he, only half-jokingly, wondered why I hadn't paid for the puppy. Frugality.

Frugality is exactly the kind of trait voters like. They'd love to believe they can get a dollar's worth of services for a dollar's worth of taxes.

Benson's major weakness is that he hasn't the vaguest idea of what a governor does or how the system works. In reading his answers to the Statesman sets of questions, it is as if he just dropped in from space. But that hasn't stopped other candidates with even less knowledge from winning governorships in the past and administering well.

Benson would be wise to have as few debates as possible because Romer is a master at this game. Benson should concentrate on TV documentaries with puff-balls for questions.

Conclusion: I'm fairly cynical about the upcoming contest....trench warfare is always dirty. The Benson decision to concentrate on "crime" could backfire if the press continues to poke holes in really outlandish claims. However the Romer reaction was to come up with additional "crime solutions" which actually bolster Benson's credibility. Wouldn't it be ironic if Democratic legislative candidates turn Benson's diatribes into use against the Republican legislature ? That's where the "crime issue" is decided. Actually, the legislature has done a reasonably decent job on this issue, especially under the funding constraints presently in place. But the voting public may be the mindless morons assumed by the candidates.

Benson could score a lot of points if he plays the Denver International Airport card well....especially since the opening is now delayed until well after the election.

Romer should force as many one-on-one debates with Benson as possible. Name identification is not going to be a Benson problem with the amount of money he will spend....knowledge is Benson's weak point.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator. He ran for political office thirteen times in Denver, winning eleven and losing twice.

Note: Romer did challenge Benson to numerous debates. After the first debates, Benson cancelled further participation, and the cancellations were widely regarded as a significant blow to his campaign.

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