The Life of the Party
Bob Beauprez came off the ranch to lead the state GOP, won one of the tightest U.S. Congressional races in history, and now he's the Republican frontrunner in the Colorado governor's race. What would JFK say?
He's at it again. For at least the fifth time in 36 hours, U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez is pitching his life story. "My grandfather came to Colorado from Belgium," he says, addressing his audience of the moment. Some 30 people surround him on a gazebo outside of Colorado Springs' City Hall. The gazebo is festooned with red, white and blue bunting. Under a late-summer sun, a young, rosy-cheeked, female volunteer hands out cookies and cups of lemonade. "He shoveled coal in the furnaces of Xcel Energy Company 'til he realized it wasn't good for his health." Beauprez's normally subtle Front Range drawl lately is sounding more pronounced. "Then, on a handshake, he bought some land and started a dairy farm...." In no time Beauprez aw-shucks his way to the point, laying out his impressive rise and latest ambition: Lafayette dairy-farm kid, cattle breeder, developer, banker, state GOP chairman, and now a 57-year-old Republican congressman running to become Colorado's next governor.
If the typical political barometers of statewide name recognition, fund-raising, weighty endorsements, pundit prognosticating, and polls mean anything, Beauprez will trounce his Republican primary opponent, Marc Holtzman, and short of a tabloid revelation that he partied with CU Buffs and babes-for-hire, Beauprez should overcome Democrat Bill Ritter in the general. (Perhaps you've noticed Democratic Party operatives begging Denver's popular mayor, John Hickenlooper, to pretty-please jump in the race.) But the old dairy hand in Beauprez learned a long time ago not to go counting milk bottles before the udder's been squeezed. This is also the guy who got elected to Congress by one of the slimmest margins in the history of U.S. House races.
No one needs to tell him how quickly this campaign could turn ugly and tight. First of all, there's the fact that he's running as a Republican congressman at a time when the Republican administration he has so dutifully supported is about as popular as the avian flu. Congressman Beauprez voted to support the war in Iraq. One of his good pals and generous political patrons is Tom DeLay, the recently indicted former U.S. House Majority Leader. (Armed with that information alone, even a Nuggets cheerleader could whip up some potent attack ads.) Then there's the high stakes. This election is about more than the perennial state issues such as education, water, and economic development: The once ruby-red state of Colorado has been turning a shade of purple. In the last presidential election, Bush had to fight harder to win Colorado than the GOP had expected, while local Republicans lost their majority in the state House and Senate. The GOP establishment now is betting on Beauprez to win the governor's office and re-energize the state party machine-Gov. Bill Owens and former state and U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer have even put aside their differences and jointly issued a press release announcing their endorsement of Beauprez.
So far Beauprez has been living a charmed political life. He's gone from being chairman of the Boulder County Republicans to boss of the state party to a U.S. congressman-landing a coveted spot on the almighty pork factory that is the House Ways and Means Committee-all in less than a decade. Along the way, he has provided just the spark the GOP has needed at critical times. When he was elected state party chairman, he inherited a membership that was bitterly divided and coffers were empty; he left that machine united and flush. When he ran for Congress in 2002, he did so in a newly created district, one some analysts figured gave Democrats the upper hand; yet Beauprez eked out the win and helped secure a Republican majority in D.C. If he fails to deliver this time, however, all that might not matter much. It could be goodbye life of the party, hellllllo party pooper.
Which is why Beauprez has been leaving nothing to chance and instead is traveling the state, working the campaign schedule of an underdog-selling his deep Colorado roots, not to mention the drawl. He believes it is one of the advantages he has over his competition, in particular his Republican opponent, Holtzman, the very urbane president of the University of Denver who also happens to be a Pennsylvania native. "Standing here before you," Beauprez says, wrapping up on the gazebo, "I am proof that the American dream works." He smiles and handshakes his way to his staffer's pickup truck and is whisked off to his next stop on the campaign trail, having neglected to tell the crowd the most critical part of his biography-perhaps because it taps too many uncomfortable memories and takes a bit of the gleam off of his otherwise shining American tale.