- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

DENVER — Two brothers who grew up ranching in Colorado’s San Luis Valley could be the Democratic Party’s best bets for picking up Republican U.S. House and Senate seats in November.

John and Ken Salazar are bidding to join the Bushes and Kennedys as one of the nation’s foremost political families. If elected, they would become only the second pair of brothers serving in Congress after Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republicans, and would join Loretta and Linda Sanchez, California Democrats, as one of three sibling pairs.

“It would be a lot of fun,” said Ken Salazar, the Colorado attorney general seeking to succeed Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. “It excites me to think about us both serving in Washington together. Maybe we could get an apartment together.”

As for the comparison to the Kennedy family, he laughed and pointed out one key distinction: “We don’t have the wealth of the Kennedys.”

Mr. Salazar, 49, is well-known to Colorado voters after winning the attorney general’s race twice. His brother, John, 51, a potato farmer, was elected to the state legislature two years ago in his first bid for office.

They didn’t plan it that way. John Salazar entered the 3rd Congressional District race in November after Republican Rep. Scott McInnis announced his retirement. But Ken Salazar, who has two years left on his term, hadn’t planned to jump into the Senate contest until March, when Mr. Campbell stunned Coloradans with his unexpected withdrawal.

Both are seen as strong candidates who can reach across party lines and appeal to the state’s majority-Republican electorate. Both describe themselves as centrist Democrats willing to buck the party leadership when it conflicts with their constituents’ best interests.

As a result, defeating the Salazars has become the top priority for state Republicans.

“Both races at this point in time are really tight,” said state Republican Party Chairman Ted Halaby.

Ken Salazar is locked in a dead heat with Republican Pete Coors, the beer-brewing scion who is making his first bid for elective office. The seat has become the focus of national attention as one of a handful that could decide partisan control of the Senate.

Meanwhile, John Salazar has to be considered the early favorite in the race for the state’s sprawling 3rd District, which encompasses most of western Colorado. His opponent, farmer and state resources executive Greg Walcher, emerged as the Republican nominee only last week after a bruising primary battle that he won by just 273 votes.

Working in John Salazar’s favor is the 2000 redistricting map, which siphoned Republican voters out of the district.

Another advantage is the inspiring Salazar family story, which, thanks to Ken Salazar’s television ads, has become well-known to Colorado voters. The brothers grew up as two of eight siblings to a fifth-generation Colorado ranching family, in a home where electricity was provided only occasionally by a generator and water had to be pumped.

Their parents, who taught their children both English and Spanish, stressed the importance of education. They had to study at night by oil lamp, but all eight earned at least one college degree.

Faced with such a stirring testimonial, the Republican strategy has been to shift the focus off the Salazars and onto the national Democratic Party, particularly Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“John Salazar is a nice guy, and he obviously has a great family,” said John Marshall, Mr. Walcher’s campaign manager. “But the fact is that this campaign is being run by the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] out of Washington.”

Another criticism is that John Salazar is trying to ride his brother’s coattails by, for example, only putting “Salazar” on his campaign signs.

John Salazar noted that he made the decision to run four months before his brother entered the Senate race. He also joked that, as children, Ken Salazar had to wear his old clothes, and now it’s Ken Salazar’s turn to pass something down.

“He wore my hand-me-downs. I guess I can wear his,” he joked.

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