Musgrave’s Makeover

Controversial Congresswoman Emphasizing Constituent Services

Posted December 12, 2007 at 5:51pm

If Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) loses her bid for a fourth term next year, she’ll have been taken down by Democrat Betsy Markey, a former aide to Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.).

But coming off a narrow victory in 2006 that saw her garner a meager 46 percent of the vote in the Republican-leaning northern Colorado 4th district, Musgrave’s biggest opponent is herself — and she knows it.

Colorado Republicans who have followed Musgrave’s Congressional career say for years she was known primarily for her opposition to same-sex


These Republicans contend that the publicity she received from sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage obscured the fact that she did a solid job of delivering constituent services and looking out for the interests of her district on Capitol Hill.

What’s changed since the 2006 elections, they say, is that Musgrave is now making sure that everything else she has done gets as much notice in the press — if not more — than her involvement with controversial social issues.

“I think she’s always done a good job for the district,” said Colorado Republican Party Chairman and Executive Director Dick Wadhams. “But for whatever reason, it was not as well-known as it should have been.”

This does not, Musgrave partisans insist, mean that the Congresswoman is altering her priorities.

“Is Marilyn changing how she votes in Congress or changing her positions and altering her principles? Absolutely not,” Musgrave campaign spokesman Jason Thielman said Wednesday. “What she is doing is working a lot harder … to be as responsive as possible to the people in her district in terms of what is important to them.”

Democrats acknowledge Musgrave’s turn toward pragmatic bipartisanship, which has come on the heels of the 2006 election that saw her cede 43 percent of the vote to liberal state Rep. Angie Paccione (D) and 11 percent of the vote to Republican-turned-Reform Party nominee Eric Eidsness.

Musgrave has worked in concert with Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.) to oppose the Army’s planned expansion of its training ground in Piñon Canyon, and she has appeared in her district with Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to discuss agricultural issues (her district includes significant agricultural interests).

Additionally, Musgrave regularly touts her opposition to various policies supported by President Bush and even has a link on her Congressional Web site labeled “Bipartisan Actions of the Week.”

But Democrats say Musgrave’s makeover is a facade. They argue that she plays the role of bipartisan legislator at home while toeing the GOP line on Capitol Hill.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Doug Thornell said Musgrave has failed to support middle-class tax relief, address the mortgage crisis or do anything about high gas prices — and he predicted that the Congresswoman would pay at the polls next year.

“Marilyn Musgrave has shown a chameleon-like ability of acting one way in her district and voting another when she comes home to Washington,” Thornell said.

Democrats believe Musgrave will be a juicy target next year. And even after failing to oust her in one of the biggest Democratic elections in a generation, they’re taking another shot at her. This cycle, she is one of the top targets of the DCCC, as well as the Colorado Democratic Party.

But despite the Congresswoman’s lackluster victory last year and her narrow 51 percent win in 2004, it won’t be easy.

The 4th district, though not as conservative as the Colorado Springs-area 5th district, leans decidedly Republican. Bush garnered 58 percent of the vote there in 2004 and won the district with 57 percent of the vote in 2000.

Musgrave’s stance against same-sex marriage motivated some Colorado-based, Democratic-leaning 527 organizations to spend several million dollars in advertising against her during the past two election cycles — $9 million worth, according to the Musgrave campaign — and that media barrage undoubtedly had some effect on her political standing.

In Markey, Democrats say they have a winner.

Paccione, who was running for the 4th district Democratic nomination again until she dropped out of the race earlier this year, was believed to be too liberal to win the seat.

But Markey is seen as the kind of moderate Democrat that has been successful in Colorado in recent years — including Sen. Salazar, Gov. Bill Ritter and Rep. Salazar, who serves in the Republican-leaning 3rd district. Markey has owned and operated two businesses, in addition to serving as Sen. Salazar’s regional director for northern Colorado, and is the former chairwoman of the Larimer County Democratic Party.

Democrats’ hopes of ousting Musgrave in 2008 were aided when Markey’s other primary opponent, Eidsness, who had switched parties yet again — followed Paccione in dropping out of the Democratic nominating contest.

Matt Sugar, a spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party, acknowledged that Musgrave’s public relations offensive and move toward the political center have bucked up her 2008 electoral chances. But Sugar said Musgrave’s effort to recast her image will only go so far, particularly because she does not have the record to back it up.

“There are a lot of holes in her armor, and I think Betsy can capitalize on those opportunities,” Sugar said.