- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

Colorado Republicans are rallying around their candidate in what some observers say will be the nation’s most competitive district in November and representative of Republican prospects for retaining control of Congress.

Rick O’Donnell received the endorsement of state and national Republicans on Saturday to replace Rep. Bob Beauprez, who is retiring from Colorado’s 7th congressional district to run for governor. Two Democrats, Peggy Lamm and Ed Perlmutter, are competing for their party’s nomination.

Mr. Perlmutter is considered to have a slight edge both in his Democratic primary and in the general election.

Colorado’s 7th district has long been held by Republicans, but the district voted for Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, over President Bush in the 2004 presidential election.

“In 2004, we were just on the cusp of realizing the Bush administration is taking us in the wrong direction,” said Perlmutter campaign manager Danielle Radovich Piper.

Despite low poll numbers for Republicans nationwide, Mr. O’Donnell says he is an independent Republican with specific plans to help voters in his district.

“What’s the last idea Democrats had?” Mr. O’Donnell said. “They want to make this a race about national politics, but don’t have any plans of their own.”

Mr. O’Donnell said his top priorities are education and immigration reform.

“We’ll help you, but it’s not a free lunch,” he said.

Both campaigns agree the race could reflect the broader trends that will affect this fall’s congressional elections.

“The 7th district really mirrors mainstream America,” Ms. Piper said.

The Perlmutter campaign took issue with Mr. O’Donnell’s description of himself as a reformer and independent Republican.

“What he’s saying and what his record is are diametrically opposed,” Ms. Piper said. “He’s a rubber-stamper for Republican politics. It’s a convenient answer in a very bad year for Republicans.”

The Club for Growth has endorsed Mr. O’Donnell, a former speechwriter for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as have the state’s leading Republicans, including Gov. Bill Owens, Sen. Wayne Allard and Mr. Beauprez.

Mr. O’Donnell also has received campaign visits from prominent Republicans, including Vice President Dick Cheney, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

On the issue of immigration, Mr. O’Donnell said he is concerned with the failure of some immigrants to assimilate into American culture.

“I don’t want the United States to become the France of the 21st century.”

Ms. Piper said the Perlmutter campaign “supports the broad principles in the McCain-Kennedy bill” on immigration reform.

With both sides expecting a very close race, the outcome could be decided by which campaign produces a better get-out-the-vote effort on Election Day.

Mr. Perlmutter served as the state chair of Mr. Kerry’s Colorado campaign.

“Our goal is to be one of 15,” his spokeswoman said, alluding to the net gain of 15 seats Democrats need in order to wrest control of the House from Republicans. “If we’re one of 15, we change the direction the country is going.”

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