Issues drive local races in Eagle County, candidates say |

Issues drive local races in Eagle County, candidates say

Chris Outcalt
Vail correspondent
Aspen CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” It didn’t happen in 2000 or 2004 and none of the candidates hoping to represent Eagle County are counting on it happening this year ” but most have given the idea some thought.

George W. Bush carried Colorado in the last two presidential elections, but support for the Republicans didn’t trickle down the ticket. In 2004, Democrats won a U.S. Senate seat and took control of both the state House and Senate for the first time in nearly 40 years.

But interest in this year’s presidential contest seems to be higher than ever, leaving both local Democrats and Republicans wondering what affect it might have on Eagle County races.

Thousands of new voters have registered across the state. In Eagle County, 23,162 voters were registered as active on Oct. 4. And for the first time, Democrats outnumbered Republicans. Unaffiliated is the largest bloc of voters in the county.

With less than two weeks to Election Day, most polls show Sen. Barack Obama with a single-digit point lead over Sen. John McCain in Colorado. The state has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once in the last 40 years.

“There is more enthusiasm around this election than I’ve ever seen,” said longtime local Democratic Party leader Debbie Marquez.

It’s a good year to be a Democrat, but it’s not cause for celebration, Marquez said.

The party has worked to reach new voters and encourage them to vote for more than just a president, she said.

Their motto: “Don’t stop at the top.”

“I think there’s always an advantage when you have a popular candidate at the top (of the ticket) that is a Democrat,” Marquez said. “The turnout for the people for Obama I expect to be substantial in Eagle County.”

The party is handing out thousands of voter guides this weekend in an attempt to educate voters on all the races and questions on the ballot, Marquez said.

“We’re doing everything we can to have the voters know who our candidates are,” she said.

Randy Milhoan, chairman of the Eagle County Republican Party, has noticed the interest in Obama.

“I know there will be lots of enthusiasm for Obama,” Milhoan said. “McCain doesn’t engender the same kind of enthusiasm ” it’s not that same kind of rock star attraction that Obama seems to get.”

Milhoan said the party is trying not to tie Eagle County races too closely to the presidential contest.

“We think we’re going to do well regardless,” Milhoan said.

Rep. Al White, a Republican who is running for Eagle County’s state Senate seat, said the race could be affected by perception of the presidential contest, but that it won’t be the deciding factor.

Young voters are the most likely to be influenced by the Obama-McCain race, White said.

White described three younger voters scenarios: They vote for Obama and the rest of the Democrats on the ticket, they vote for Obama and leave, or they do their research and consider the ballot issues.

He hopes it’s the latter.

“I hope these new voters would take time to research and understand the differences between the candidates for which they may not be turning out specifically,” White said

White said he’s campaigned in schools in an effort to reach younger voters.

“It’s an attempt to let those young kids understand that I’m not a Bush Republican,” he said. “I think there is a perception among younger kids that all Republicans are the same.”

Democrat Ken Brenner, who is running against White, said new voters interested in the presidential race will be an important factor in the state Senate contest.

“It’s probably not a good year to be an incumbent Republican,” Brenner said. “I think they’ll make it down the ticket. They may not vote on every single issue but I think you’ll see them very interested in their local government.”

At some point, races are too local to be affected by Obama and McCain, some county commissioner candidates said.

Republican commissioner candidate Debbie Buckley said she has supporters that plan to vote for Obama.

“I don’t think it’s having any impact,” she said. “My race is based on issues, not as much on parties.”

Jon Stavney, a Democrat who is running for county commissioner, isn’t anticipating much help from the top of the ticket, but said the tone of the presidential campaign has influenced the commissioners race, and that can swing voters.

“There’s always those people on both sides,” Stavney said. “This race is not won or lost on having your strict party vote, this is won or lost by the 8,000 people in the middle.”

Democrat Christine Scanlan, who is running for the state House, is skeptical of the top-of-the-ticket affect.

“I think it’s a good year to be a Democrat,” she said. “But with that said, people are very independent minded in this district and do a lot of ticket splitting.”

Scanlan has seen the topic of the economy filter down into the state House race.

“Going on three weeks now that’s the dominating thing,” she said. “Whether I’m calling or knocking on doors, they’re extremely nervous about the state of our economy.”

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