Why Is this Woman Smiling?

She's been heckled, threatened, and placed on Sarah Palin's hit list. Yet Democratic Congresswoman Betsy Markey is raking in campaign money and still thinks she can hold the traditionally conservative 4th District come November.

May 2010

A week after her vote—on an unseasonably warm early-spring afternoon—Markey's in the kitchen of her 100-year-old Fort Collins home, with her husband and two of her aides standing next to the Viking cooktop, admiring the eggplant-colored dress she's going to wear to an event that night. Her usually straight hair is swept around her head like cotton candy on a stick.

Though she's a national target for Republicans, the moment, the controversy, seems to have emboldened Markey. "All of this has actually helped me," she says. In the weeks following her health-care vote, Markey's campaign banked $355,000 and totaled $505,000 for the first quarter of the year, a district record. "Sarah Palin can put me in her crosshairs, but that gets people angry, and that gets people working harder for me," she says. "It's reenergized our people, our fund-raising, and it's going to put boots on the ground."

Still, she's not planning to speak at town hall-style events for several weeks; instead, she's conducting telephone town-hall "meetings" in which voters call to hear her and register their opinions.

Republicans undoubtedly will portray this as Markey's fear of meeting voters face to face—and perhaps avoiding embarrassing moments with Tea Party protesters that could end up on Fox News. Markey's dismissive of the notion. "I want to get a cross-section of people, and I can do that by phone," she says. "I want to reach everyone in the district, not just one organized group of people."

If the right has turned Markey into a bête noire , the left has now truly adopted her as one of its own. At a Larimer County dinner after the final health-care vote, Democrats pawed at the self-described moderate for more than an hour. "The same people who were upset with me because of my earlier votes are telling me that I did the right thing," she says. "I'm standing there telling people that I'm an independent voice, and that I'm going to stay independent. More and more, I'm going to have to remind my supporters of that."

I wondered if, based on the standing ovation she'd received just weeks earlier, the members of the Northern Colorado Cowboy Church would appreciate Markey's "independent voice." I called Lynette Gleghorn and asked her why the overwhelmingly conservative congregation had given Markey such a warm welcome in the middle of what had become such a bitter, toxic debate.

"Well, we're taught from the Bible that we are to honor those people who represent us," Gleghorn told me, very politely. "We were proud to have her visit us, and she seems like a really great woman. We're all praying for her."

Prayer's great, I tell Gleghorn, but Markey needs some votes, too. I ask Gleghorn if she thinks her flock will support Markey when November rolls around.

There's silence on the other end of the line, a pregnant pause. Then Gleghorn speaks: "Oh, no, sir," she says. "Around here, we're Republicans."

Robert Sanchez, 5280's staff writer, profiled former White House press secretary Dana Perino in the January issue of the magazine. E-mail him at [email protected].