- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

DENVER With the New Jersey Senate contest in disarray, the Colorado Senate race, once dubbed "the Rodney Dangerfield" of campaigns, is suddenly getting a little respect.
Desperate to pick up another seat now that Sen. Robert G. Torricelli has backed out of the New Jersey race, Democrats are focusing their energies on the increasingly competitive race between Republican Sen. Wayne Allard and Democrat Tom Strickland.
Neither candidate is a national figure, and there's no theme dominating the campaign, hence the nickname from the political Hotline roundup. But the latest surveys show the race in a statistical dead heat with about 15 percent of voters still undecided.
"It's now overwhelmingly clear that the Democrats are on the defensive to maintain their one-seat majority in the Senate, and this race is one of the closest in the nation," said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli. "The Democrats really need to pick something like this up or they're going to have to elect that guy that just suddenly appeared in New Jersey."
The Colorado race drew national attention last weekend when the candidates debated on "Meet the Press." The show then dropped a bombshell in the form of a Zogby poll showing them running neck and neck at about 42 percent each.
The Allard campaign dismissed the survey as an "aberration." Nonetheless, the exposure came as a huge boost to Mr. Strickland, who lost to Mr. Allard six years ago and had been trailing in all previous polls, analysts say.
"All the Washington special-interest groups watched it and said, 'Let's put some money in the Strickland campaign,'" Mr. Ciruli said. "He got a whole new lease on life and a new passel of negative ads."
Not that there had ever been a shortage of those. Since July, both campaigns have been firing attack ads at each other on issues ranging from the candidates' corporate ties to the environment to the war on terrorism.
The Allard campaign has updated its winning 1996 strategy, which contrasted Mr. Allard's roots as a rural veterinarian with the "lawyer-lobbyist" Mr. Strickland, except that this year they're calling Mr. Strickland a "millionaire lawyer-lobbyist."
Mr. Strickland has countered with law-and-order ads highlighting his two-year stint as the state's U.S. attorney. Meanwhile, the Sierra Club is blasting Mr. Allard's environmental record with its own slogan, "Wayne's World vs. the Real World."
"In Wayne's World, corporations make the mess, but you pay to clean it up," says the Sierra Club, citing his vote for reimbursing corporations when they pay for some cleanup costs.
Republicans have countered with ads highlighting Mr. Allard's environmental accomplishments and criticizing Mr. Strickland for representing firms that violate pollution standards. The Allard forces are also airing commercials that accuse Mr. Strickland of being soft on defense, noting that he accepted a $53,000 donation from the anti-military Council for a Livable World.
The commercials also accuse Mr. Strickland of waffling on missile defense, saying that he "wanted to slash the military budget" six years ago, but now supports missile-defense technology.
"He's changed his tune," the ad said. "Who's he kidding?"
So far the Allard campaign has the fund-raising advantage, taking in about $4.5 million to the Strickland campaign's $3 million. But Mr. Strickland has received support in the form of issue ads by the Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO, and Republicans say they expect pro-choice groups to weigh in shortly.
The spate of special-interest ads smacks of hypocrisy, says Allard campaign manager Dick Wadhams. He noted that liberal organizations such as the Sierra Club supported campaign-finance reform, even making it a criterion for their endorsement, but continue to pour soft money into the Strickland campaign.
"We're being out-aired 2-to-1," Mr. Wadhams said. "Every one of these liberal self-interest groups extolled the virtues of campaign-finance reform and the evils of soft money, and every one is now running ads for Tom Strickland. It reveals the hypocrites and frauds they really are."
Mr. Wadhams singled out the Sierra Club, which received a Federal Election Commission exemption last month to fund educational ads even after campaign-finance reforms take effect after the election. Sierra Club spokeswoman Margaret Conway said the exemption was for its nonprofit, nonpolitical arm, the Sierra Club Foundation.


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