As Colorado attracts national attention for its swing-state status, the more local House District 52 election exemplifies the highly competitive nature of statewide elections, which at this point have no clear-cut winners.
Incumbent Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, has served the district for two years and is now campaigning against former Republican Rep. Bob McCluskey for re-election to an office that has changed hands from Republican to Democrat repeatedly in the last 25 years.
And like many campaigns this year, the race for House District 52 is not without attack ads.
Although Kefalas has not endorsed or been the source of any negative advertisement against his opponent, Accountability for Colorado, an independent organization, has sent out a series of mailers to Fort Collins voters questioning McCluskey’s voting history and asking voters to call and tell him to “stop putting women’s lives at risk.”
The mailers referred to a 2003 bill that would allow insurers to refuse coverage for mammograms.
Accountability for Colorado is a 527 organization and gets its name from its federal tax code and is a common entity in a political campaign. These groups are not authorized to directly advocate on behalf of a specific candidate, so they spend money assailing the opposing candidate’s reputation to impact local elections.
Unlike personal campaign spending, there is no limit on the amount of money these 527s can spend on furthering their political agenda, so long as they don’t expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a specific candidate.
Kefalas has the support of at least eight of these 527s, McCluskey said.
“These ads are way over the top,” he said. “It’s just an example of Denver money coming to Fort Collins to try to sway voter opinion instead of letting Fort Collins people decide for themselves.”
Not even Kefalas supports the negative tone of these messages.
“They have really crossed of the line of civility,” he said. “I don’t approve of them, but we can’t stop them.”
CSU political science professor John Straayer said that the effects of these 527s could be dangerous to both candidates.
“It’s really a two-edged sword,” he said. “If there are limited resources, the candidates can benefit from the blasting of their opponent, but since they have to be independent, there is no control over what gets put out.”
Straayer said Kefalas has garnered more 527 support simply because the groups that back him have more money.
However, McCluskey has not taken the abuse lying down, and according to the Colorado Secretary of State Elections Center, he has given $65,000 to his own campaign, which is now blaming Kefalas and other Democrats in office for increased oil and gas prices.
It is perfectly legal for a candidate to finance their own campaign, and it is common practice for candidates that can afford to do so. Later, campaign donations can be used to reimburse the personal contribution.
But Kefalas said that his opponent is “trying to buy this election” and the accusation that the Democrats have influenced gas prices is ridiculous.
“How can I, a single representative, influence the cost of gasoline?” he said. “It is my opinion that in an act of desperation he is paying for these negative ads, and I think that it’s going to backfire.”
But McCluskey defends the claim, arguing the supply of gas in Colorado can affect local prices, and that democratic policy is too restrictive on in-state oil and gas production.
Though he said he agrees renewable energies are the future, he argued the supply of gas could be increased without damaging the environment.
Both candidates have been strong supporters of higher education while in office, and both promise to work on creating more jobs, strengthening the economy and improving access and affordability of health insurance.
Kefalas said that if elected, depending on the outcome of the federal elections, he would like to work on developing public health insurance.
McCluskey said he wants to develop portable health insurance, which would follow employees as they change jobs.
Kefalas pointed to the more than 50 public meetings, forums and discussions he has held while in office, priding himself on his accessibility and transparency as a representative and his efforts to prevent uranium mining in Colorado.
McCluskey, who has held public appearances from supporters’ homes, said that his experience in the private sector over the past two years will give him an advantage over Kefalas.
Elections Beat Reporter Trevor Simonton can be reached at email@example.com.