Eyes on the prize (8-10-06)

Gubernatorial candidates ready to amp up post-primary campaigns

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With a virtual deadlock in the polls, and the eyes and ears of voters now tuned into statewide issues post-primary election, expect two gubernatorial candidates to amp up their bids for the statehouse.

Consider the three months between now and the Nov. 7 general election the home stretch, campaign staffers for Democrat Bill Ritter and Republican Bob Beauprez said.

"Once you're done with the primary, you have everybody's attention," said Laura Chapin, Ritter's deputy communications director. "There will be plenty of 16-, 18-hour days. There's a lot of work left to do."

Or, more bluntly:

"We go about the business of a bare-knuckle street fight at this point," said John Marshall, Beauprez's campaign manager.

Polling information, gathered at the end of July, indicates the candidates are running neck and neck. Earlier polls suggested that Ritter had a seven-point lead, but as the latest info attests, there is no frontrunner.

The poll -- published by the Wall Street Journal online and Zogby International -- indicates the race has closed to a two-point contest. Ritter has 42 percent support against Beauprez's 40 percent, according to the poll.

The poll has a four-point margin of error.

So, what's it all mean?

Representatives from both campaigns analyzed the polling information and said its message is simple: It's still far too early to predict which candidate will be left standing at the finish line.

Both Ritter, D-Denver, and Beauprez, R-Arvada, came to Craig last week during a campaign swing through Northwest Colorado and stumped for their platforms. Their speeches centered heavily on three issues -- education, transportation and health care -- that are common areas of debate during political seasons.

The candidates come to the race with different backgrounds, different successes.

Ritter served as Denver's district attorney for 12 years. Term limited with the DA's Officer he leaped into the governor's race.

Beauprez has served in Congress since 2003. As a sophomore in the House of Representatives, he earned a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Both men said they filed for the race to make a difference.

"I think as governor, you can make a real difference for your state," said Ritter, who was raised on a farm east of Aurora. "You have to have an investment mentality. Education, public transportation, health care ... these are things that everyone cares about. Wherever we've gone, our message has stayed the same. We can, and will, do better."

Beauprez spurned a run at another term in Congress for a chance at the state Capitol. He said he consulted with colleagues along the Beltway, including President Bush, about running for governor.

The consensus: Serve your state.

"They said if you want to make a difference to your state, go be a governor," Beauprez said. "I think I'm the guy with the practical real-life experience ... to make that difference."

While in Craig, the candidates' campaign staffers were more than willing to take pot shots at each other.

Ritter's staff criticized Beauprez's aggressive stance on oil and gas exploration, saying that drilling comes at the expense of the environment.

Not to be outdone, Beauprez's staff called Ritter hypocritical for supporting stricter gun control measures and then meeting with a group of sportsmen.

Those slams continued this week. Call their remarks proximity slurs.

Marshall said Ritter is too wired into Denver and is out of touch with the needs of the whole state, a sentiment echoed by Beauprez during his Craig visit.

Beauprez has referred to Ritter as a "Denver-ite."

Chapin said Beauprez's term in Congress keeps him in Washington, D.C., for days at a time and away from the real needs of residents here.

"Bill is in Colorado full time," she said.

Expect the barrage to continue. With the primary election over and more attention being focused on the governor's race, both campaigns are preparing to launch TV and radio advertisements in an effort to sway voters before November.

Before leaving Craig, the candidates made one final plea to voters.

Ritter pledged to take new ideas to government.

"We're poised to win this race," Ritter said. "We need pragmatic problem solvers. Someone who is willing to look at different ideas for solving 21st century problems. We believe we're the ones that can make that difference."

Beauprez said his administration would unite Colorado under a philosophy of doing what's right for all residents.

"We need to be giving (people) a legitimate shot at having what I've had here -- the American dream," he said.

He also said that his tenure as governor wouldn't follow the old political way of "poking the other guy in the eye" to get something done.

"It might get you elected," he said, "but it's a tough way to get something done."

For more information on the candidates, visit their Web sites at www.beauprezforgovernor.com and www.ritterforgovernor.com.

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

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