City candidates show different strategies

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City government went to the dogs — or rather the dog — Tuesday morning.

Mayor Steve Bach gave a Spirit of the Springs award at his news conference to Swagger, the Old English sheepdog which beat out 2,720 competitors to win reserve best-in-show at Westminster. The pooch belongs to Colton and Heather Johnson, part of the family that owns and operates Sunrise Kennels. The long-established business was cited by Bach for its generosity during the Waldo Canyon fire, when Sunrise provided cost-free refuge to more than 250 displaced dogs and cats.

At 20 months, Swagger is an engaging beast: He’s big, friendly and knows how to work a crowd — the Bill Clinton of dogs. Getting a picture taken with Swagger (who would have happily complied) would have bolstered any City Council campaign.

For whatever reason, not one of the 24 Council candidates showed. It was interesting that no candidate thought it worthwhile to spend a half-hour listening to the mayor and working the crowd. Ballots go out in less than two weeks, so candidates ought to be engaging voters and vying for free media 24/7.

Just as some animals are more equal than others, some campaigns seem focused, some not.

One District 3 household that includes a registered Democrat and a registered Republican received mailers portraying two very different candidates, both named Keith King.

The Republican-targeted flyer spoke of King’s “conservative vision and extensive experience,” including being named Republican of the Year in 2012. His vision includes “no general-fund tax increases,” and the flyer fronts an endorsement by Attorney General John Suthers, saying that “I can’t wait to see Keith King on City Council.”

Democrats got a different pitch. State Sen. Rollie Heath, “one of the most liberal members of the state Senate,” is quoted as calling King “the best of what government is supposed to be.” The flyer also quotes King’s deputy campaign manager, Dan Ajamian, who once interned for Sen. Michael Bennet, saying “if Democrats and Independents knew Keith the way I do … every Democrat and Independent in the district would support him.”

Such targeted mailers are designed to solidify King’s base in the Traditional Republican Establishment while softening his image as a Republican partisan among Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

In a crowded race featuring an incumbent and three former elected officials, King needs not only the TRE vote, which may split between him and Jim Bensberg, but he needs to capture moderates, independents and Democrats from Brandy Williams and Tom Gallagher.

Will it work? None of the usual suspects ventures an opinion. One attorney, a longtime player in local politics, expressed the collective bewilderment.

“District 3 and District 5 — I wouldn’t know how to call them,” he said. “You’ve got people with very high name recognition, enough money, a lot of support. It’s anybody’s race.”

Perhaps, but King’s opponents have yet to make much noise. Unless they mend their ways, the amiable King may succeed in stitching together enough votes to win.

In District 1, Tim Leigh feels the heat. After calling Colorado Springs Utilities a mismanaged, bloated, directionless enterprise, Leigh is backtracking. In a lengthy email, he praised CSU’s employees and attacked the “solar gardens” initiatives supported by most Council colleagues. According to Tim, “The gale winds of the campaign are blowing with full-force and unfortunately for them [based on E-mail traffic I’ve seen] the CSU EAG PAC seems to have fallen under the Witches [sic] spell of CSU management’s marketing machine and appears to have become an unwitting shill of CSU management’s lobbying effort. Had the CSU EAG PAC chosen to interview me they may have been surprised to learn how strongly an advocate I have been for the average CSU employee.”

His sudden conversion cut no ice with the employee group, who endorsed one of Leigh’s opponents, Don Knight. That should give a lift to Knight’s campaign, but Leigh’s name recognition may still prove decisive.

In District 5, Jill Gaebler is campaigning hard, showing up everywhere and adeptly using social media. Al Loma and Bernie Herpin, clearly distracted by their District 11 and Council duties, have been less visible. Loma’s D-11 service may not help his candidacy, given recent unpopular school closures. It’s a situation made to order for negative campaigning — Herpin and/or Gaebler might send out mailers mourning the impending closure of Wasson.

With 24 candidates in the six races, media endorsements will likely carry disproportionate weight. The Business Journal does not endorse specific candidates; the Independent and the Gazette will do so. It’ll be interesting to see whether any candidates will garner support from both newspapers, as some did in 2011.

In 2011, the at-large Council races were skewed by Douglas Bruce’s “reform team.” None of the five team members were elected, each receiving about 20,000 votes. In effect, Bruce’s group diverted 20,000 votes away from more mainstream conservatives and likely contributed to Sean Paige’s defeat. Two team members, Helen Collins (District 6) and Ed Bircham (District 4) are running this time, but there’s no across-the-board reform slate. That should help traditional conservatives such as King, Bensberg, Herpin and Leigh, while hurting moderates.