"A lot of people felt she wasn't paying enough attention to her district," says Bill Hillsman, president of North Woods Advertising, the Minneapolis firm that created the infamous TV ads. "Is gay marriage really an issue here? No. Is it a big enough issue to get her booted out of office? Probably not. But for a lot of conservative Republicans, $14 billion cuts to veterans' benefits mean something. The ads were intended to get the attention of people who don't pay attention to politics."
Republicans were livid, claiming the ads were grossly unfair and asking the TV stations to refuse to run them. "They started to airlift lawyers in from Washington to intimidate the stations into not airing the ads," recalls Hillsman. "It was a defining moment. You know you're doing something effective when the other side desperately wants to get the ads off the air."
The spots created controversy in both political camps, with some Democrats asserting the ads may have backfired and turned off voters. But the fact that Democrats were willing to try something so risky shows how thinking in the party has started to change.
The ads and their sponsoring group had no formal link to her opponent, Stan Matsunaka. But while Musgrave was still able to win re-election, the over-the-top ad campaign did real damage: Despite outspending Matsunaka by almost 4-to-1, Musgrave was able to secure only 51 percent of the vote-a victory, yes, but a substantial loss of ground from her 2002 win over Matsunaka.
But the attack on Musgrave was only the beginning. Last summer Yates found plenty of Coloradans who were as upset as he was about politics in their state. And though the midnight redistricting map eventually was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court, Yates' crusade had only just begun. Soon he was strategizing with three other multimillionaires whose political passions were as deep as their pockets. State Board of Education member Jared Polis, who made a fortune during the Internet bubble, was interested. So was Tim Gill, the openly gay founder of software company Quark. Another self-made high-tech mogul, Rutt Bridges, also signed on.
For years Republicans had controlled the state and dominated elections, outspending their Democratic rivals, but suddenly there was money-and motivation-on the Democrats' side. And the sudden alliance of four of Colorado's wealthiest people would change everything.