- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2001

DENVER — For Colorado voters, it's deja vu all over again as the same tortoise-and-the-hare candidates of five years ago line up for the crucial 2002 U.S. Senate race.
With control of the Senate hanging in the balance, Democrats have targeted Sen. Wayne Allard, a former U.S. representative and large-animal veterinarian, as one of the incumbent Republicans most vulnerable to a challenge. His likely opponent is Democrat Tom Strickland, the same Denver lawyer whom Mr. Allard narrowly defeated in 1996.
That year, the slow-talking, low-key Mr. Allard overcame a 20-point deficit in the polls to edge the smoother, more polished Mr. Strickland on Election Day, even though the Allard campaign was outspent by $700,000.
But the Democrats have reason to believe they can win a rematch: A Denver Post poll taken in June showed the candidates in a dead heat, with each polling 42 percent of likely voters.
Mr. Strickland, 49, has since added "U.S. attorney" to his resume, having served in that post under President Clinton for two years. He's unlikely to face another tough primary: Colorado's two best-known Democrats, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and Rep. Mark Udall, have already taken themselves out of the running, giving Mr. Strickland a clear shot at the nomination.
He got a jump on his likely Republican foe this week by announcing his candidacy with a frenetic, three-day statewide speaking tour. One thing he won't do, he says, is allow the Allard campaign to tar him as a "lawyer/lobbyist," a label he was unable to shake during the last campaign.
"I let the other side define me in the last race," said Mr. Strickland at an appearance last week in Westminster, a Denver suburb. "This time, I'm going to make it clear what I stand for and who I am."
Who he is, he says, is a maverick Democrat willing to cross party lines to get things done.
During his campaign appearances, he praised Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, for working with Democratic Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut on closing the so-called "gun-show loophole."
Colorado politicos are already predicting an expensive, hard-fought race that's bound to attract lots of soft money and issue advertising from special-interest groups. "Everybody's seen the numbers and the numbers show Allard is defeatable, but it's not going to be easy," said Paul Talmey of Denver's Talmey-Drake Research. "My sense is he's vulnerable, but he's certainly no pushover."
Indeed, it's easy to underestimate the 57-year-old Mr. Allard, who's the kind of candidate even his supporters refer to as "a plodder." He entered the 1996 race as the underdog, coming from behind to defeat now-Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton for the GOP nomination before overtaking Mr. Strickland in the general election.
A dogged but unspectacular campaigner, Mr. Allard looks like he'd rather be delivering calves in a barn than wearing a tie and making a speech. That worked to his advantage in the last race when his campaign played up the contrast between the folksy veterinarian Mr. Allard and the "slick" Mr. Strickland.
As Colorado's junior senator, he's done little to raise his national profile, and he's inevitably overshadowed by the state's flamboyant senior senator, Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
But he wins kudos for being "a demon" on constituent service, as the Rocky Mountain News put it, devoting his energies to local projects like the Rocky Flats cleanup, the Shattuck Superfund site and the Great Sand Dunes National Monument.
"Wayne Allard's low-key demeanor is deceptive; he has proven a formidable opponent," said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli in his Aug. 6 issue brief on the race.
The Allard campaign can also take heart in the state's voter-registration trends.
Five years ago, Colorado Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 106,000 voters.
This year, the Republican voter-registration advantage is closer to 168,000.

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