Nov 172005
 
Authors: Vimal Patel, Drew Haugen

State Rep. Angie Paccione, a congressional candidate and CSU instructor, has accused Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave of ignoring the interests of her district's constituents in favor of those of the oil industry.

She said the district's farmers, ranchers, truckers and small businesses have been hit hard by soaring gas prices while Musgrave has given preferential treatment to Big Oil, pointing out that the congresswoman has taken in almost $57,000 from the industry in the last election cycle.

"Whose side is she on?" asked Paccione, a Fort Collins Democrat, in a Wednesday press release. "Representative Musgrave is lining the pockets of Exxon and they are lining hers."

The conservative Republican congresswoman did not respond to a message on Thursday afternoon seeking comment about Paccione's accusations.

Paccione won't accept any money from the oil industry, said Gary Chandler, a Paccione campaign spokesman.

"I don't think Big Oil is going to offer her any money," he said. "And if they did, she wouldn't take it."

He described Paccione's campaign as a grassroots effort drawing on local support from individuals. The only political action committees she'll accept money from are ones she believes in, such as those that promote healthcare and educational opportunities, Chandler said.

Musgrave, the twice-elected incumbent, and Paccione, the challenger, are set to duke it out for Colorado's 4th Congressional District seat, which encompasses Fort Collins, along with the entire eastern flank of Colorado.

MONEY AND POLITICS

The oil and gas industry gives money to both parties. Since 1990, however, Republicans have received three times as much money from the industry than Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

In the 2004 election cycle, Democrats nationwide received about $5 million from the industry, while Republicans received about $20.5 million, according to the center.

Bill Chaloupka, a CSU professor and chair of the political science department, said that industries have an interest in Congress's administrative process.

"What big donors are getting for their contributions is not so much a vote, per se, but they're getting access," he said.

Oil prices have sharply dipped this month and have settled below pre-Katrina levels, but still remain significantly higher than this time last year.

The average price per gallon of gas in Colorado is about $2.35, down from about $2.80 in mid-October, according to ColoradoGasPrices.com, a Web site that monitors gas prices throughout the state.

The state's prices remain about 10 cents higher per gallon than the national average.

"Fuel prices in general are very important in rural Colorado," Chaloupka said. "It costs a lot to run an agricultural operation, and a lot of that money is fuel."

The average price per gallon nationwide and in Colorado this time last year was hovering around $1.90. Three years ago, at about $1.45, according to the site.

THE CHALLENGER VS. THE INCUMBENT

Congressional incumbents usually win re-election, but the road ahead for Musgrave looks rocky. In fact, Republicans nationwide are rallying to the incumbent's aid.

President Bush is expected to come to Colorado later this month to raise money for Musgrave, who has already raised more than $1 million for this election and has more than $700,000 cash on hand, according to CRP.

"Marilyn has acted as a 'rubber stamp' for George W. Bush and (former House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay," Chandler said.

Paccione has raised about $38,000 and has about $13,000 cash on hand, according to the CRP.

The numbers for both candidates are through Sept. 30.

Chaloupka said incumbents usually win for three reasons: familiarity, fundraising and redistricting.

Fundraising is easier for incumbents and districts are set up in such a way that it's difficult for the opposing party to make headway.

"As a result, there's usually only a handful of Congressional races that are up in the air in any given cycle," Chaloupka said.

But several factors could impact this race, including the condition of the National Republican Party, which has taken a series of blows in the past few months. The President's approval ratings are the lowest of his presidency.

"It's a long time until election day," Chaloupka said. "(Paccione or Musgrave) might face a primary challenge … Who knows what kind of shape President Bush is going to be in 10 months from now."

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