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Catch-22 with Welker Decision

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The big story after last weekend’s round of county assemblies in Colorado was the surprise announcement by Republican Rep. Jim Welker that he will not run for re-election in 2006. Welker has been getting a lot of bad press lately for consistently forwarding inappropriate e-mails to colleagues, an embarrassment on top of a history of bizarre comments (he once claimed that allowing gay marriage would lead to humans marrying their pets) and a recent federal investigation into problems with a company he owns in Loveland.

The Rocky Mountain News can catch you up on some of the details:

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At the Larimer County Republican Assembly on Saturday, Welker announced he would not seek re-election in District 51. He nominated businessman Kevan McNaught to take his place, but surprised and upset delegates asked for more time to familiarize themselves with McNaught and other possible candidates.

Welker has been under fire since March 10, when the Rocky Mountain News reported he had forwarded in an e-mail to constituents an essay from a black conservative commentator who called black Hurricane Katrina victims “welfare pampered” and “immoral.”

Welker has taken heat for other e-mails he has sent during his legislative career, but this time he outraged many of his colleagues – black, white, Republican and Democrat. Welker publicly apologized to the House, but that incident set in a motion a review of other e-mails he’d sent.

In 2003, Welker forwarded a conservative study that claimed gay men regularly ingest the urine and feces of their partners, leading to massive outbreaks of various diseases, and questioned why gays and lesbians were allowed to work with children, the elderly and in the food industry. The Republican speaker of the House at the time warned him about sending such e-mails, but the missives continued.

Republican leaders had been quietly talking to Welker about stepping aside for the past several weeks. Welker’s behavior was putting Republicans in a difficult position of being forced to either defend him, which was getting tougher to do, or throw him under the bus. Concerns were also mounting that Welker’s Republican-leaning seat could fall into Democratic hands if he ran for re-election in November; it wouldn’t be tough to attack him with direct mail to moderate Republicans and Unaffiliated voters, and even solid conservatives may have been embarrassed enough at Welker’s behavior to refuse to vote for him.

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Welker’s announcement is thus a catch-22 for Democrats. On the one hand, Dems can be happy to have gotten rid of one of the more right-wing Republicans in the state legislature. But on the other hand, Democrats would have had a much better chance of beating Welker in November than they will have in beating a more moderate — and less controversial — Republican candidate.

The situation here is reminscent in some ways of what Democrats face in congressional district six, where Rep. Tom Tancredo has held his seat in a solid Republican district for years. Because he is so controversial and has been essentially a one-issue congressman, Tancredo could be beaten by a Democrat (although the odds are long because of the heavy Republican voter registration advantage). But if the controversial Tancredo were beaten this year, the incumbent Democrat would likely lose in 2008 to a more moderate and well-rounded Republican opponent.

When one party enjoys a significant voter registration advantage, the only real hope of winning that seat is if the incumbent Republican is so controversial that he or she becomes an easy target. In the case of Welker, Democrats should be careful what they wish for; they are rid of one of the more extreme-right Republican members of the legislature, but not it is much difficult to win that seat if you are a Democrat.

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