- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

DENVER — Colorado Senate candidates Pete Coors and Ken Salazar turned up the heat at a debate yesterday in a tight race that’s morphing from cordial to combative.

“I want to cut your taxes — Ken wants to raise your taxes,” Mr. Coors, a Republican, said at a debate sponsored by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry. “I want to cut lawsuit abuse — Ken thinks the current system is just fine.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Salazar, the state’s Democratic attorney general, slammed Mr. Coors for accepting campaign donations from pharmaceutical interests.

“Prescription-drug companies are the hidden hand behind [Mr. Coors’] campaign,” Mr. Salazar told the packed luncheon crowd of about 500 people.

Mr. Coors was taken aback.

“You said you wanted to keep this a clean campaign, and you’re calling me the handmaiden of drug companies,” Mr. Coors said.

The campaigns have gone on the offensive even as polls continue to show no clear leader in the race. A Ciruli Associates poll for the Pueblo Chieftain released Sept. 18 showed Mr. Salazar leading by one percentage point, well within the margin of error.

But a Rocky Mountain News poll released the same day showed Mr. Salazar ahead of Mr. Coors by 11 points. A survey for KUSA-TV, released last week, showed Mr. Coors leading by six points.

Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said the wildly divergent surveys indicate that the race probably is too close to call.

“The consensus view is that the race is a dead heat,” he said. “Salazar has the advantage with a very high approval rating, and … he’s polling about 75 percent with Hispanics.”

In Mr. Coors’ corner is the strength of President Bush, who has been leading Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry in recent state polls.

“Coors is being helped by the president. President Bush is doing well here, and the Bush ground organization is very powerful,” Mr. Ciruli said.

At the debate, Mr. Coors continued to press his message of keeping the Bush administration tax cuts, supporting the war on terror, and tort reform. He repeated his contention that the Senate needs more business leaders, not more lawyers like Mr. Salazar.

“There are 57 lawyers in the U.S. Senate,” said Mr. Coors, scion of the Coors brewing family. “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I think that’s enough.”

As attorney general, Mr. Salazar called himself “the people’s lawyer” and pointed out that he also is a small-business owner. He stressed the need for economic and homeland security while noting his reputation as a moderate Democrat who will work across party lines.

“I’ll always put people ahead of party,” Mr. Salazar said.

Mr. Salazar, who has contended that there are too many millionaires like Mr. Coors in the Senate, played the class-warfare card this week with a new television commercial. The ad says the Republican “can’t understand that middle-class families are struggling” and quotes Mr. Coors as saying, “I don’t know what a common man is.”

The Coors campaign cried foul, saying the quote was taken out of context. Mr. Coors made the remark at a League of Women Voters debate, but then continued with, “A common man is somebody who lives in this country that works hard to provide jobs for others, who works either providing for others or working for someone else. I’ve done both.”

At the same time, the Salazar campaign has taken umbrage with a television spot accusing the Democrat of going easy on polluters during his stint as executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources.

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