Race for state Senate seat a backyard battle
ASPEN – When Gail Schwartz ran for state Senate in 2006, one of her opponent’s campaign strategies was to criticize where she lived: the Aspen area.
After all, how could a candidate hailing from an affluent ski-resort town, if elected to Senate District 5, resonate with her blue-collar constituents who reside as southerly as the New Mexico boarder?
But Schwartz, a Democrat, overcame the Aspen stigma – even though she actually resides in Snowmass Village – by defeating Republican incumbent Lewis Entz with 24,565 votes compared to the 23,629 collected by the San Luis Valley rancher.
Schwartz is seeking re-election this November, but she won’t have to worry about her hometown status working against her.
That’s because her Republican opponent, Bob Rankin, makes Aspen his home, too. But lately Rankin, who won his party’s nomination at May’s Republican State Assembly with 72 percent of the vote, has been spending little time in Aspen.
Instead, he’s been on the campaign trail throughout the 11-county district, which has a population of nearly 120,000, trying to reach out to voters he thinks Schwartz has overlooked – the farmers, ranchers and coal miners.
“This is a really big district,” Rankin said. “It’s 10 million acres, and 7 million of those are public lands. It’s a very different district than if you were in the Denver area.”
Rankin said that for a better part of the last month, he and his wife, Joyce, have spent 80 to 85 percent of their time on the road “meeting people.”
“That’s part of the strategy,” he said. “We’ve been in coal mines and we’ve sat in on school superintendents’ meetings and been to local water boards. Our strategy has been to get to know the district geographically and get to know the people.
“When you take Aspen, with our second-home owners, and go down to Costilla and Conejos counties, there’s working men and women down there with very different lives.”
Rankin said he realizes he has his work cut out against Schwartz, who generated a good amount of publicity during this year’s legislative session by sponsoring a state renewable energy bill that’s expected to create 23,000 new jobs in the sate.
Rankin said Schwartz has been a “good Democrat” as part of the Ritter administration.
“They’ve done a whole series of things that have hurt our job base,” said Rankin, a small-business owner and newcomer to politics. “But I’m not going to take anything for granted. Gail is very hard-working and she has name recognition for her four years as senator.”
For now, Rankin has been outlining his positions on what he considers the hot-button issues for District 5: energy, public lands, education and the size of government.
Rankin advocates that the best way to achieve energy independence is by tapping the country’s “vast reserves of energy supplies that are being withheld from use because of political agendas.”
He also expressed disappointment about the passage of House Bill 1365 requiring the conversion of coal plants to natural gas. Coal miners will eventually be squeezed out of work because of the bill, Rankin said.
“That became a real divisive issue and I don’t think it had to be,” Rankin said. “They’re widening a wedge between our coal industry and our gas industry. We have a lot of coal miners in this district. Those guys work very hard, and I don’t think we should make our constituents worried about their jobs.”
Rankin’ website, while not addressing the Hidden Gems Wilderness campaign specifically, says “there is constant pressure from environmental activists to create new set asides or convert more area to Wilderness.” The Hidden Gems campaign, a highly divisive issue for many area residents, identifies about 342,000 acres in Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison counties that need protection.
“I believe the public should have access to public lands,” Rankin’s website says. “The continuing well-funded efforts by the ‘environmental’ industry to restrict access damages both the economy of Colorado and the well being of the citizens who will never experience the majesty of Colorado outdoors.”
Schwartz and her campaign manager did not return messages seeking comment.
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