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Money, ground war spur Polis’ win

Lynn Bartels and Todd Hartman
Rocky Mountain News

Did wealthy entrepreneur Jared Polis buy victory in Eagle County’s congressional primary, or did Democratic rival Joan Fitz-Gerald throw it away?

Political observers are debating about what went wrong and what went right in a race where the outcome ” especially in blue-collar Adams County ” surprised many.

Polis’ infusion of at least $5.3 million of his own money made the biggest difference in his victory over the former state Senate president and party stalwart, they said.



Former Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley, a Lakewood Democrat, said trying to overcome Polis’ financial advantage was extremely difficult. But, he said, Fitz-Gerald ran “an old-style campaign and this is 2008. Things have changed.”

That’s what Polis counted on, dismissing, for example, conventional wisdom that said Fitz-Gerald owned Adams County because of her support from labor unions and teachers.



Polis won with 42 percent of the vote. Fitz-Gerald had 38 percent, and conservationist Will Shafroth was third with 20 percent.

Democratic political consultant Steve Welchert said a number of factors influenced the race, including a record turnout. That hurt Fitz-Gerald, he said, because a low turnout favors the party favorite.

Welchert also said that Fitz-Gerald didn’t spend her limited resources well enough.



“If you’re going to get outspent $8 million to $2 million, your $2 million better be pretty darn good, and her TV fell far short,” he said.

He said the three candidates put out “some of the worst” campaign ads he had ever seen, but Polis was able to influence voters with the sheer volume of his ads.

The first inkling of trouble for Fitz-Gerald came when polls closed at 7 p.m. and counties began releasing their early and absentee vote totals. She was behind in Adams County.

“Adams was a shocker, I mean a shocker,” said state Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Westminster.

“But in hindsight, Jared’s face was on TV all the time. You’d watch the Olympics, and there’d be two Jared Polis ads.”

The victory was bittersweet for wealthy gay activist Tim Gill, a longtime Fitz-Gerald fan.

“I supported Joan; she’s great,” he said. “But Jared’s win shows that being openly gay can be a nonissue. Jared including his partner Marlon in his victory photos was a class act.”

Neither Fitz-Gerald nor her campaign manager, Mary Alice Mandarich, returned phone calls.

Polis’ campaign manager, Robert Becker, said Polis worked hard at courting Hispanic and first-time voters who came out in force in February to support Barack Obama at the Colorado caucuses. Polis also wooed younger, unaffiliated voters.

“We brought a fair number of new voters into the process, something we will forever be proud of,” Becker said.

Polis’ money enabled the campaign to have an aggressive strategy for mail ballots, which went out in mid-July.

“Once we knew people had ballots in their hands, we called them, knocked on their door,” Becker said. “Jared spent countless hours calling folks. He would call voters, show up on their doorstep.”

In Adams County, Polis targeted Hispanics, lining up support from former state lawmakers Polly Baca and Val Vigil.


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