- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 26, 2004

DENVER — Every time John Kerry arrives to campaign in Colorado, Democratic Senate candidate Ken Salazar suddenly becomes very busy.

During Mr. Kerry’s five previous campaign stops here, Mr. Salazar has been conspicuously absent, citing a series of scheduling conflicts. It wasn’t until Mr. Kerry’s sixth visit last weekend that Mr. Salazar appeared with the top of the Democratic ticket at a rally in Pueblo.

At that point, say politicos, the pressure on Mr. Salazar had become too great.

“There was so much comment about Salazar’s apparent desire not to appear with Kerry that he really had no choice,” said Robert Loevy, political science professor at Colorado College.

Campaigning with the party’s presidential nominee normally is seen as a plus for candidates, but not for many of this year’s crop of Democratic Senate hopefuls. In the states featuring the tightest Senate contests — Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina and South Dakota — the Democrats appear to be deliberately avoiding Mr. Kerry for fear of alienating moderate and undecided voters.

The same can’t be said of their Republican rivals, who have rushed to embrace President Bush. In Colorado, for example, Republican Senate hopeful Pete Coors has appeared prominently beside Mr. Bush during each of his four campaign visits.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kerry’s reputation as a campaign untouchable has started to become the subject of jokes. Virginia Sen. George Allen, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), kidded last week about sending Mr. Kerry to Alaska, where Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is battling former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles.

“I would pay for John Kerry to fly up to Alaska and put himself around the Democratic nominee, but I don’t think he’ll go up there,” said Mr. Allen in remarks at the National Press Club.

Republicans attribute the phenomenon to Mr. Kerry’s image as an East Coast liberal.

“The Democratic candidates throughout the country are really uncomfortable with the top of the ticket,” said Dan Allen, NRSC spokesman. “He’s a Massachusetts liberal. And I think the Democratic candidates know as well as we do that they don’t want to be associated with a Massachusetts liberal.”

On the other hand, Republican candidates have no such aversion to the president, Mr. Allen said. In Washington state, not exactly a Republican stronghold, Mr. Bush has appeared twice with Rep. George Nethercutt, who is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. Is the campaign worried that Mr. Bush will push away voters?

“No, not at all,” said Nethercutt spokesman Alex Conant. “Any time Mr. Nethercutt stands next to the president, it rallies the Republican base and motivates them to do what we need to do to win. And moderate and independent voters understand the importance of having a senator who can work with the president.”

Another factor is geography. Most of this year’s open Senate seats fall in the South and other Republican strongholds, where Democrats often are forced to distance themselves from the national party to stay competitive.

The two exceptions are Colorado and Florida, both widely regarded as states that could swing for either Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry. Even so, Betty Castor, the Democratic Senate nominee from Florida, has campaigned with Mr. Kerry just once, although Mr. Kerry has visited the state more than a dozen times.

Castor spokesman Matt Burgess blamed the lack of shared campaign events on the candidates’ schedules while stressing Mrs. Castor’s political independence. Mrs. Castor is locked in a tie with Republican candidate Mel Martinez.

“Here’s the big difference between Betty Castor and Mel Martinez — she’s an independent voice for Florida,” Mr. Burgess said. “She’ll vote with the party when it’s good for Florida and she’ll disagree when it’s not. Mel Martinez has said there’s no major issue on which he disagrees with George Bush.”

Is Mr. Kerry becoming a drag on her campaign? “No, but I don’t think that matters,” he said. “The point is who’s going to fight hardest for people in Florida, and that’s Betty Castor.”

In Colorado, Salazar spokesman Cody Wertz downplayed the candidate’s photo opportunity with Mr. Kerry. “I think the people of Colorado know that Ken is a moderate, independent Democrat. Appearing with John Kerry doesn’t change that,” he said.

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