July 26, 2006

Democrats battle in key House race in Colorado

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. (Reuters) - In one of the most tightly
contested and closely watched U.S. House races, Republican Rick
O'Donnell has been a gleeful bystander as Democrats slug it out
in a primary that could leave the winner weak and vulnerable in

O'Donnell, the unopposed Republican nominee in Colorado's
7th District, has been organizing and raising money all year
while Democrats Peggy Lamm and Ed Perlmutter batter each other
and spend their cash ahead of the August 8 primary.

"The morning of August 9, I'm going to have an opponent who
is bloodied, bruised and bankrupt, and I'm going to be ready to
go," said O'Donnell, a former state director of higher
education who picked up another $600,000 for his campaign last
week when President George W. Bush visited for a fund raiser.

But Democrats say their primary winner will have high name
recognition, fresh momentum and plenty of money heading into
November, while O'Donnell will be fighting links with Bush and
a sour national political climate for Republicans.

"This is said to be the number one race in the country, so
in the end there are going to be lots of resources for both
sides," said Lamm, a former state representative who expects
plenty of financial help from national Democrats.

Perlmutter, a former state senator, said he will be "battle
hardened" after the primary in the suburban district, which
wraps itself around the north, west and eastern edges of

"I'm spending my money in a way that gives me the name
recognition you need for the general election," he said.


Both parties list the Colorado race as one of their top
priorities in November. For Democrats to pick up the 15 seats
they need to reclaim control of the House of Representatives,
they must win in suburban districts like this one.

"It's the most competitive seat in the country and it's
absolutely wide open," independent pollster Floyd Ciruli of
Denver said.

The district, created by a judge before the 2002 election
when legislators could not agree on a redistricting map, is
divided almost evenly between Democrats, Republicans and

Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez won the district in 2002 by
121 votes and won re-election more comfortably in 2004, but
decided to run for governor this year.

Ciruli said voter concerns about the war in Iraq, gas
prices and corruption scandals could benefit Democrats, who
will try to tie O'Donnell to Bush. The two Republicans were
pictured together in both Denver newspapers after the fund
raiser, but O'Donnell said he is no Bush clone.

"I'm not George Bush, he's not on the ballot," said
O'Donnell, who criticizes high spending under Bush but supports
a stay-the-course approach in Iraq. "I think the president is
right on a lot of issues, on others I would have a different

O'Donnell's campaign had more than $850,000 in the bank at
the end of June, before the Bush fund raiser, while Perlmutter
had just more than $500,000 and Lamm had $250,000.

Lamm, a former sister-in-law to well-known ex-governor Dick
Lamm, and Perlmutter have few major policy differences but have
traded charges over their ties to special interests and who can
best represent the district.

One Democratic voter in what could be a low turnout and
unpredictable primary summed up the uncertainty over the
outcome as Lamm campaigned door-to-door in suburban Commerce
City over the weekend.

"I will vote. I will vote for a Democrat. But at this point
I can't promise you any more than that," he told Lamm.