The answer isn't pretty. I'm convinced that Hickenlooper made his decision for all the right reasons. He certainly hit all the right notes in making his announcement. Standing with his wife in Civic Center Park, the mayor talked about unfinished projects and his love of the job. But most of all, he spoke of principles. "One of the reasons I ran for elected office was that we wanted to show people that local government could carry through on its commitments, that it would practice what it preaches, that people could put the good of the city above their own personal ambitions," he said.
But Hick's decision not to run is likely to be one of a very few principled acts in a campaign season that promises to be the dirtiest that Colorado has seen in a long, long time. Republican candidate Marc Holtzman has already gone negative, attacking not just his opponents, but the entire city of Denver as well. Denver, the former venture capitalist said recently, is a pot-smoking "rogue city" with an "overly secular agenda." Though he has never held elected office, Holtzman fancies himself a protégé of Ronald Reagan and no doubt thought his remarks were no different than the time the Gipper called the Soviets an "evil empire." What he forgets is that Reagan never needed any Russian votes to get elected. As we make clear on page 24 of this issue, getting elected without the Mile-High City is a dicey proposition to say the least. Even so, Holtzman is wealthy and likely to stay in the race long-term, ensuring a bloody primary against Bob Beauprez, the ambitious, second-term congressman from Colorado's 7th district.
Beauprez radiates folksy charm, but in truth he won't be much better than Holtzman in terms of negative campaigning. Having won his first elected office by a mere 121 votes in 2002, Beauprez has learned to scrap for every edge he can get. And if that means engaging in a bit of brass-knuckles campaigning, well, so be it. No one knows that better than Dave Thomas, the Jefferson County district attorney who opposed Beauprez's 2004 re-election bid. Beauprez held all the cards in that race. He was the incumbent. He had the active support of the White House. And most important, he had a campaign war chest that was nearly triple the size of Thomas'. By fall, most polls showed him comfortably ahead.
But that race was about more than re-election for Beauprez. It was about the future, about higher office. So rather than coast to an easy victory, the former rancher went for the jugular, unleashing a series of TV ads so outrageous that even the ultra-conservative Rocky Mountain News denounced them as "below the belt."
History has a way of repeating itself, and in an ironic twist, Beauprez is likely to be facing another district attorney in this year's general election. Though former Denver DA Bill Ritter hasn't inspired much excitement among Democratic leaders, he seems to be polling well. Which makes it all the more likely that Beauprez will stick with his tried-and-true formula. Get ready for another barrage of TV ads about a "reckless and wrong" prosecutor who is "soft on crime."
As if all that weren't bad enough, the governor's race will be played out against a backdrop of competing gay marriage measures. We wrote back in December about how these initiatives are less about the issues themselves than about mobilizing voters by appealing to their basest fears.
All this nastiness will play out, of course, because-time and time again-it has worked. Which makes it just that much more painful that the one guy who's proven that a positive message can win just got out of the race.
Like I said, be careful what you wish for.
Daniel Brogan is 5280's editor and publisher.