National Republicans got their wish Tuesday when brewing magnate Pete Coors crushed former Rep. Bob Schaffer in Colorado’s Senate primary, setting up a November matchup with state Attorney General Ken Salazar (D).
Coors took 61 percent to 39 percent for Schaffer, carrying 52 of the state’s 64 counties. Schaffer, who represented the eastern Colorado 4th district from 1996 to 2002, won just 10 counties, eight of which were in his old territory. Two counties had not been called for either man as of this posting.
“Pete Coors is an American original,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Dan Allen. “His business experience and knowledge will be a great asset in the United States Senate.”
NRSC Chairman George Allen (Va.) was scheduled to join Coors and Schaffer on a unity bus tour today that will culminate in a fundraiser at the home of Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan.
On the Democratic side, Salazar won a 73 percent to 27 percent victory over educator Mike Miles.
In the only contested House race on the ballot, former state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Greg Walcher eked out a victory over state Rep. Matt Smith in the Western Slope 3rd district Republican primary to replace retiring Rep. Scott McInnis (R).
Walcher received 32 percent to Smith’s 31 percent; the two were separated by just 275 votes and Smith had yet to concede, pending the counting of provisional ballots.
Whoever emerges as the nominee will face state Rep. John Salazar (D) in the fall; Salazar, Ken’s older brother, was unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
The race to replace Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R) will be the featured contest in the state, however, and one of a handful of matchups that are expected to determine control of the Senate.
Coors’ convincing victory in his first run for elective office was due in large part to the tremendous fundraising advantage he enjoyed over Schaffer.
While the man famous for his beer blanketed the state for more than two months with ads introducing himself to voters as a politician, Schaffer struggled to even raise enough money to fund basic get-out-the-vote efforts.
Coors also chipped in $400,000 from his own pocket late in the race, further exacerbating the fundraising disparity.
Schaffer allies, led by former Sen. Bill Armstrong (R-Colo.), formed a soft-money group that ran ads attacking Coors as a supporter of the “homosexual agenda” but were ultimately unsuccessful.
Coors’ win provides some redemption for Gov. Bill Owens (R), who led a drawn-out search for an alternative to Schaffer; the governor believed the Schaffer’s ardent conservatism made him unelectable in the fall.
As for the Democrats, Salazar’s victory was expected as Miles raised little money and had only the barest bones of a campaign operation.
Miles did, however, strike fear in the heart of some Salazar supporters by winning the top spot on the ballot at the state party assembly in June.
Republicans were quick to note Wednesday that since 1996 the assembly has selected a candidate who went on to lose the primary three times. In each of those scenarios, the Democratic primary winner lost the general election.
National Democrats were not bothered by past political history Wednesday, reiterating their belief that Salazar enters the general election as the favorite.
“Ken Salazar is by far the most popular politician in the state of Colorado,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. “He has a life experience that allows him to connect to voters in a way that few politicians ever can.”
Woodhouse noted that all public polling released to this point in the campaign shows Salazar with a comfortable lead over Coors.
In the 3rd district race, where McInnis is retiring after six terms, Walcher emerged from a five-way primary field by touting his conservative principles.
His victory ensures a high-profile general election against John Salazar, who national Democrats believe represents one of their best chances for a pickup.