Two Republicans battle for right to challenge Dem Polis

Contested primary race in CD 2

By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The two Republican candidates running in the CD 2 primary in August are hoping to ultimately oust popular Congressman Jared Polis, the Democratic incumbent who’s facing his first reelection.

Stephen Bailey, above left, and Bob Brancato, right, will face off after both secured ballot designation last month at the congressional assembly.

Bob Brancato, 42, a private investigator and an advocate against child abuse from Firestone, and Stephen Bailey, 50, a marketing director and constitutional fundamentalist from Niwot, will face off after both secured ballot designation last month at the congressional assembly.

“The representation we’re getting from Jared Polis doesn’t sit well with conservatives such as myself. The winds of change were coming and I put my name in the hat, so to speak, because I’m committed to running and I know what we needed as a country,” said Brancato.

Unseating Polis won’t be easy. A Democrat has represented CD 2 for the past 35 years. The district is home to Boulder and includes the counties of Broomfield, Eagle, Grand, Clear Creek, Summit and Gilpin, and portions of Adams, Weld, Jefferson and Boulder counties. Active registered voter statistics as of June 1 in CD 2 breakdown in favor of Polis with 140,389 Democrats compared to 95,829 Republicans and 128,040 unaffiliated voters.

U.S. Rep. Polis returns to Adams City High School

The Adams County School Safety and Violence Prevention Conference attracted several Colorado lawmakers and leaders at Adams City High School in Commerce City last week.

Congressman Jared Polis, D-CD 2, kicked off the conference by introducing keynote speaker Kevin Jennings, the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Jennings, the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network in the 1990s, is a lightning rod for conservatives who have demanded his removal since his appointment last year. Jennings’ detractors allege that his organization recommended inappropriate books to minors, among other complaints, a charge he has denied.

Polis had glowing remarks for Jennings.

“I need to tell you how attentive he is to details. When he arrived this morning and got off the plane he said, ‘Jared, I read two of your bills and I have these set of comments here and three recommendations for making them better,’” Polis said. “I can tell you I could probably count on one hand — I could probably count one finger — how many members of Congress, including myself, who have actually read my bills.”

In remarks that spanned over 40 minutes, Jennings complimented Polis as a great congressional representative. He also outlined the agenda of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools tier of the Department of Education and talked about federal grant opportunities for schools struggling with bullying, violence or dropout rates.

“Students need to feel like they belong, are valued and physically and emotionally safe for learning to occur,” Jennings said.

Jennings said his model for a safe school includes engaging relationships among staff and students, respect for diversity, emotional and physical safety, little substance abuse and a comfortable setting in which to learn.

State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster, and Adams County District Attorney Don Quick attended the conference. Also speaking were Commerce City chief of police Philip Baca, Adams 14 Superintendent Susan Chandler and Adams 12 Superintendent Chris Gdowsky.

The event, which promoted community engagement in reducing school bullying, violence, truancy and dropout rates, ran from June 2 to June 4. The new Adams City High School building was finished in August 2009. Polis said it was his first time back at the school since attending the ground breaking in 2008.

— By Anthony Bowe

“It’s definitely a challenge, but I don’t think it’s an impossibility to win,” said Bailey, who served in the Air Force and then worked as a software engineer before changing careers. “A more accurate characterization of the district is that it is fiscally moderate to conservative and socially moderate to liberal. The choice between the two, in past years, has been limited to socially moderate liberal.

“But this year is a lot different. A lot of people are really concerned about what’s happening with our economy,” Bailey added.

Brancato, who owns his own private investigation business, wants to defeat Polis so that he can more accurately represent the district.

“You’re going to have to work on both sides of the aisle. It’s something that is just going to have to be done,” he said. “Our party over the past few election cycles has been the party of ‘no.’ We really need to be able to reach out and help America, not just help one side, not just help the other side, but to help America rebound from all the atrocities that have been happening.”

Bailey is running as a constitutionalist who pledges to work to restore rights to the citizens that he said have been dissolved by the growing federal government.

“I want the government out of our checkbooks, out of our pocket books and out of our living rooms and I’m the candidate and the only candidate in this race that follows that,” he said.

Bailey uses the recent health care package passed in Congress as one example for how American’s rights are abused.

“If the majority can force everyone to purchase a product, a principle has been conceded and there is nothing to stop the majority from exercising that authority for other products and services,” he said on his campaign Web site.

Bailey won a majority of delegate support at the district assembly with 61 percent to Brancato’s 39 percent and consequently will appear first on the ballot. CD 2 Republican Chair Debra Irvine said over 400 delegates attended the district assembly.

“The positive energy and desire for new representation was powerful at the CD 2 Assembly on May 21. Add that to a recent national trend to oust incumbents and a strong dissatisfaction with the status quo, and you’ve got yourself a race to watch,” Irvine said in a statement.

Sandy Hume, a former state legislator, nominated Bailey with a second from Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield. Brancato was nominated by Barbara Kirkmeyer, a Weld County commissioner, with a second from Firestone Mayor Chad Auer.

To close the gap on Bailey’s frontrunner status, Brancato is aggressively campaigning with cable ads during Glen Beck’s show on FoxNews, arranging ‘meet and greets’ with constituents and appearing on radio shows, he said. Earning the endorsement of former CD 6 Congressman Tom Tancredo also has helped his campaign, he said. The two traveled to Arizona on Saturday to advocate on behalf of Arizona’s new controversial immigration law at an event in Phoenix.

Polis said last week he doesn’t think a Republican primary will necessarily strengthen his own campaign as both GOP candidates focus money and time campaigning against one another. He said his primary against fellow Democrat Joan Fitz-Gerald in 2008, which he narrowly won, actually helped him.

“It made me a better candidate and it certainly rewarded hard work,” Polis said. “Whoever the Republicans choose to be their standard-bearer I’ll look forward to a vigorous debate about the issues.”

Fundraising is a major advantage for Polis. So far he has $150,000 cash on hand through March, which triples the totals that Bailey and Brancato say they will end this quarter with. In the 2008 election Polis, a former Internet entrepreneur and multi-millionaire, contributed just short of $6 million to his own campaign.

“Congressman Polis is in a strong position to be reelected,” said Andy Stone, the western regional press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington D.C.

Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the CD 2 race is not currently being targeted in 2010.

Scott Starin, Polis’ 2008 opponent who lost by 27 points, advised this year’s Republican challengers to primarily focus on the general election against Polis.

“I would recommend to both of them to start running the general election campaign now rather than the primary and stick to the issues that most concern people across this district and across America — and that’s fiscal responsibility,” said Starin, who serves as chair for the Boulder County Republicans.

Starin thinks Polis is vulnerable this year after voting in favor of the federal health care bill and the stimulus package. And with Republican interest surging and the political pendulum possibly beginning its swing back toward the right, Starin said Brancato and Bailey really have a chance to defeat Polis.

“Midterm elections are definitely an opportunity,” he said. “When I ran two years ago I got 116,000 votes. In a typical midterm election, if a candidate were to get that kind of vote, he would win. Mark Udall won in 1998 with about 109,000 votes.”

Brancato said his campaign recently invited Bailey to take part in a series of four debates in June. Brancato said he is still waiting for an answer.

“I’m not going to wait around and cater to Mr. Bailey. We have plenty of things we need to do,” he said.

Bailey said his campaign received the offer and is still mulling it over.

Both candidates traded barbs in interviews a couple weeks ago. Brancato said Bailey’s campaign is inconsistent with its messages. He said Bailey advocated for murder charges for abortion providers at a January event in Lafayette, but then Bailey said he wouldn’t vote against abortion in the Adams County candidate questionnaire in February.

Bailey said Brancato is badly mistaken.

“I have never advocated for murder charges against anyone,” Bailey said. “He might be confused in that I said that if you were consistent on the strong pro-life stance that abortion is murder, then you would be advocating murder charges — or at least accessory to murder charges — for anyone who commits an abortion as far as a woman having it, or the doctor who actually performs it.”

Bailey said he would vote against allowing congress to intervene in abortion laws since the constitution doesn’t explicitly allow it to.

Bailey criticized his opponent for formally supporting government funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, which is not ordained in the constitution. Brancato responded by saying he once did support the NEA before he realized it was being used as a tool for President Obama’s agenda.

Bailey also criticizes Brancato’s approach to politics, calling it a “populist approach” where he tries to appeal to voters on an emotional level. In contrast Bailey said he bases his arguments more on reason and rationale.

“I don’t want people voting for me on an emotional reaction to anything,” he said.

Anthony@coloradostatesman.com