- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

DENVER — Republican Pete Coors and Democrat Ken Salazar spent the weekend crisscrossing Colorado as last-minute polls showed the Senate contest too close to call.

A Denver Post poll released Friday found the candidates tied at 46 percent each, and a Rocky Mountain News/News 4 survey showed Mr. Salazar leading 48 percent to 42 percent.

“I’ve said it for a couple of months: I think this race is going to come down to a couple of points,” said Denver political consultant Eric Sondermann. “If there’s any advantage heading into Election Day, I think it’s a Salazar advantage.”

Mr. Sondermann cited the state attorney general’s experience — he has won statewide election three times — and his roots in the rural San Luis Valley, where he has managed to win despite the Republican voting edge.

“He has an ability to find votes in rural, small-town Colorado, votes that aren’t available to the typical Democratic candidate,” Mr. Sondermann said.

Mr. Salazar, 49, also has won most of the state’s newspaper endorsements, including from the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. The race to succeed retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Republican, could be crucial in determining who controls the Senate, which now has 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Democrat-leaning independent.

In Mr. Coors’ favor is President Bush’s recent surge in Colorado. After months of being pegged as a swing state, Colorado has come out strongly in Mr. Bush’s corner, polls show.

A Denver Post poll released Sunday found Mr. Bush with 50 percent support to 43 percent for his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry. The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Mr. Coors, 58, also is expected to benefit from the state’s Republican voter-registration advantage. A series of registration drives conducted by liberal groups in Colorado eroded the Republicans’ advantage by about 8,000 votes, but the state still has 179,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats.

The candidates kicked off their final campaign weekend with a televised debate on KCNC-TV, the local CBS affiliate. Both men are known for their low-key, cordial personalities, but they still took a few shots at each other.

Mr. Salazar once again ripped his opponent on the drinking age, saying Mr. Coors wants to lower it from 21 to 18. “What would end up happening is we’d end up losing as many as 1,000 young people’s lives each year,” Mr. Salazar said.

Mr. Coors, who leads the Coors Brewing Co., vehemently denied that he wants to change the drinking age, saying it isn’t on his agenda. He added that he thought the issue should be decided by the states, not the federal government.

“It’s an egregious assault to try to associate me and my company with wanting to make some kind of gain with me being a U.S. senator,” Mr. Coors said. “It’s wrong, and it’s the kind of negativity I find insulting to the intellect of the people of Colorado.”

Mr. Salazar also tried to trip up his opponent on his state facts by asking him how many counties are in Colorado, and whether he has visited them all. Mr. Coors knew the answer — 64 — but said he hadn’t hit every county, unlike Mr. Salazar.

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