Feature

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

It's a cloudless January morning in Wellington, a former railroad town that's now a smudge on the map between Denver and Cheyenne, Wyoming. The sun is shining, traffic is breezing along I-25, and the parking lot at the town's Ace Hardware store is buzzing with a group of Tea Partiers. A dozen or so protesters who have gathered here, 20 minutes south of the Wyoming border, are awaiting Betsy Markey, their first-term congresswoman, a Blue Dog Democrat—and to hear it from them, one of the Four Horsewomen of the looming socialist apocalypse. Signs ("Individual Liberty, Government Accountability"), Sarah Palin bumper stickers, and "Don't Tread on Me" hats abound. One guy stands near a car while tooting on a fife and wearing a tricornered Colonial hat while another man—with a black beard and dark Ray Charles sunglasses—sits in a chair and taps away on a Revolutionary War-style drum.

Inside the hardware store, one of Markey's young aides peeks out a window. "Oh, God," he says. "They're here." Markey arrives a few minutes late and makes a beeline for the protesters. "Glad you could make it!" the petite, 54-year-old blonde says, reaching out a hand. "We'll be starting soon. I hope to see you inside." She waves at the Ray Charles drummer. The Tea Partiers aren't quite sure what to make of the gesture.

Markey introduces herself to the store's owner and to several employees just off the main shopping area, which smells of lawn chemicals. One man is doing his best to look as unenthusiastic as possible when shaking the congresswoman's hand. Another man puts a hand on Markey's shoulder.

"I didn't vote for you," he says.

"Uh-huh," Markey says.

"I'm a conservative, and I appreciate you voting conservative sometimes."

Markey smiles, nods, then smoothes the creases out of her cardigan and walks to the front of the room. All 75 seats are taken, and the overflow crowd has to stand along the back wall, under metallic signs that read "A messy kitchen is a happy kitchen." There's an uneasy feeling at the hardware store, as there is at events like these—in times like these—across the state and the rest of the country. It's a feeling that's actually been put into writing on signs taped to the store's entrances: "It is our privilege to welcome Congresswoman Betsy Markey to Wellington. Please be respectful or you will be asked to leave."

Despite being pro-choice, environmentally friendly, and an advocate for consumer rights, Markey begins the meeting, as she often does with groups inclined to be skeptical of her political leanings, by highlighting her more conservative handiwork. She does so with a matter-of-factness that makes it seem as if her decisions were foregone conclusions because she's a moderate Democrat: There was her vote against the House's original health-care bill this past fall; her vote against increasing the public debt; and her role pushing a small property-rights bill to fight a faulty Forest Service survey in Crystal Lakes. "I want to help the government work for you," she assures the men and women seated in front of her. There's muffled grumbling in the back of the store.

Markey solicits questions from the audience. Instead, people want to offer their comments, like this one: "We are taxed to death." Or this one: "Quit trying to regulate us. Get out of our lives." Or this one: "We have a president taking the same path Hitler did."

Markey ignores this comment. After about 45 minutes, she points to a man in the second row, signaling that it's his turn to ask a question. He has graying, slicked-back hair and wears a black, leather jacket. He stands.

"You are spending way too much money," the man says, wagging an index finger. His voice is rising. "You will stand before God. You all will."

"We all will," Markey interrupts.

"Well, you're not obeying the Constitution, and we're getting sick of it," the man says. "One day there's going to be blood on the streets."

Some of the people are staring at the floor, arms crossed. It's difficult to say if they're too embarrassed to look at this man, or at Markey—or both—or if they're simply taking in the words. Others are shooting wide-eyed, this-can't-be-good looks at one another. Markey stands still, hands at her sides.

"There were 1.3 million people in Washington, D.C., at a September protest," the man continues. "Maybe next time we'll just bring our guns."

Now people are no longer staring at the floor; they are out of their seats. Fingers are pointing, hands are waving, voices are rising.

"Sit down!" Markey yells at the man. "Sit down!"

"Why don't you calm down!" one man says.

"That's just stupid!" another says.

The gray-haired man shrinks in his chair, as if he knows he's said something he shouldn't have said. He apologizes later, but Markey turns away. "Now, where were we?" she asks, sharply.

Forty minutes later, the event is over. Markey shakes a few more hands before an aide grabs her by the elbow and points her toward the door. The gun comment is on Markey's mind. "Par for the course," she says as she heads toward the sunlight. She shakes her head. "I don't know why people have to get so crazy."

From the beginning of her tenure in the House last year, Betsy Markey has been walking what at times is an impossibly

fine line. A self-made millionaire Democrat in what traditionally has been among Colorado's most Republican districts, Markey has frequently elicited fury from both opponents and supporters during her time in office. On top of that, she is one of scores of House members in so-called swing districts. Depending on the day of the week, and who is actually saying the word, "swing" has come to mean fence-sitting, finger-in-the-wind calculating, or you're-out-of-a-job-this-fall.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, Markey has been somewhat ideologically inscrutable since she took office. She cosponsored the Employee Free Choice Act—known by Republicans as "card-check"—which would, in part, make it easier for employees to form, join, or assist labor unions; later, she voted for the controversial cap-and-trade energy legislation. The votes certainly energized the growing base of progressives from the 4th District's urban centers—Fort Collins, Greeley, and Longmont—but likewise energized the Republican opposition, which at one time had at least three men who were itching to run against her this year.

In November, following a series of brutal town hall meetings (including a particularly intense one in Fort Morgan), Markey capped what was a subtle, but noticeable, move to the right by joining 39 other Democrats who voted against the House's health-care proposal; it didn't do enough to curb rising costs, she argued. Shortly after the vote, she became a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats, then followed that move with a vote against her party on a proposal to increase the public debt. The break baffled supporters. "Betsy's frustrated a lot of people," Pat Waak, the state's Democratic chairwoman, admitted this winter. "We get calls about her all the time. Some people feel really hurt."

Turn back the clock three years, however, and it's not difficult to see why Markey often finds herself in lose-lose scenarios with her constituents. It was in June 2007 that the transplanted Coloradan and former government employee/tech-company founder/coffee-and-ice-cream-shop-owner/Democratic-activist announced that she would take on three-term archconservative Marilyn Musgrave in an election that, at first, seemed unwinnable. "It was uphill most of the way," Markey recalls. "First, I had to convince my own party that I was viable."

There was good reason to question her—or any other Democrat, for that matter: The 4th District had sent only Republicans to the House since 1972. Musgrave happened to be one of Congress' most conservative members. Since she'd arrived in Washington in 2003, she'd sponsored myriad resolutions and Constitutional amendments, and made it her life's work to, as she said, "return to God and Biblical principles." Her legislative list was a social conservative's dream. First, she signed on as the main sponsor of a failed amendment that would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In 2006, she cosponsored a bill that attempted to prohibit online poker. A year later, she cosponsored a failed resolution to name 2007 the "National Year of the Bible." Though her popularity waned with each election (she won with only 46 percent of the vote when she faced a Democrat and a Reform Party candidate in 2006), the district appeared as if it would be in GOP hands for the long haul.

Markey was undeterred. While Musgrave fought her far-right war in Washington, Markey focused on everyday concerns at home. Jobs. The economy. How to pay the mortgage. By spring of 2008, Markey had raised close to $1 million. Her campaign team went from 75 volunteers to hundreds—folks who knocked on nearly every voter's door in 18 districts that stretched from the Wyoming border, east to Nebraska, south along the Kansas state line, all the way to Oklahoma. She said Musgrave was out of touch. Markey's message was underscored that summer when millionaire Colorado software mogul, philanthropist, and gay-rights activist Tim Gill funded advertisements that memorably portrayed Musgrave as aloof.

Then came the Democratic primary, a once-in-a-lifetime presidential candidate named Barack Obama, the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and, finally, Election Day. On that November evening, the Democrats notched win after win in the House and the Senate—stunners in North Carolina and Florida and Virginia.

Markey's victory, though, wasn't a traditional upset, even if she did oust an incumbent. No, this mother of three clobbered Musgrave by 12 percentage points. Hope and Change had torn their way through Colorado's plains like one of those trailer-park tornadoes. But amid the postelection joy, there was a caveat. Markey had swept to victory in the 4th, but Obama did not; John McCain carried the district by a slim margin. The district may have inched toward purple in November of '08, but its roots were still red.

Now, fast-forward to March of this year, when Markey became one of eight Democrats who, after voting against the House's original health-care proposal, voted in favor of the party's revamped $940 billion health-care plan. In voting yes, Markey cited the bill's projected long-term cost savings. If she had been a progressive pariah following her slew of conservative votes this past winter, Markey now found herself a darling of the left. The progressive political action committee Emily's List called Markey one of its "health-care heroes," and the word "brave" was tossed around—especially because the reform package passed by a mere seven votes. President Obama called Markey to thank her, then cited her for praise in a meeting of House Democrats, acknowledging she was "in a tough district."

There were plaudits, yes, but there were threats, too. A day before the vote, a man called Markey's office and told an assistant that "[you] better hope I don't run into you in a dark alley with a knife, a club, or a gun." In another threat, a caller said that Markey better be careful when she returns to Colorado from D.C. Markey's office reported the threats to the Capitol police, and one of Markey's aides called Fort Collins Police Services to ask for increased patrols around her house and office.

And so, where, exactly, does that leave Markey headed into the dog days of summer, into the big campaign push before this November's election? Her health-care vote will likely shore up progressive votes and motivate true-believer volunteers this fall, but it also puts her at odds with a big swath of her constituency who opposed what they see as a move toward a federal takeover of health care.

Republicans have already gone on the offensive. Days after the health-care bill's passage on March 21, former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin put Markey on a list of 20 swing-district Democrats who voted for the plan. "Come November, we're going to print pink slips for members of Congress as fast as they've been printing money," Palin wrote on her Facebook page. The National Republican Congressional Committee—which ran its first health care-themed advertisements against Markey less than a week after the vote—began referring to her as Betsy Markey-Mezvinsky, a reference to one-term Pennsylvania Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, a Democrat who lost her seat after casting the deciding vote to support President Bill Clinton's first budget in 1993. And the Wall Street Journal called out Markey and two other Democrats, saying they "all are huddled at the end of the plank, staring at the fins."

Markey scoffs at the political trash talk. "The president called me before the vote, and he said, 'The public is going to be changing its mind on this.' And I said, 'I agree, Mr. President,' " she says. "I don't think health care will even be an election-year issue. It'll be jobs and the economy, and people are going to realize that this bill wasn't some kind of big-government takeover. There's mixed reaction right now, but people are going to be supportive when they understand what was in this bill."

Regardless, Markey's 12-percentage-point win over Musgrave is now a distant memory. By all accounts, her reelection will be difficult. The opposition is more sanguine: "She's done," says Colorado Republican chairman Dick Wadhams.

Over dinner and beers in the basement of Fort Collins' Crown Pub, four blocks from their home, Markey and her husband are considering what life would be like if she were representing a solidly Democratic constituency.

"It seems like it'd be so boring to be in one of those safe districts, like Jared Polis or Diana DeGette," Jim Kelly, Markey's husband, says, ticking off representatives from neighboring Democratic districts in Boulder and Denver. "How uninteresting would life be without the excitement?" Markey laughs. "I'd like to find out."

"Boooooring," says Kelly, who, at 55, is athletically built with shaggy, salt-and-pepper hair, and is ostensibly the more laid-back of the duo.

That Markey is a congresswoman at all, let alone one in a triple-underlined, bold-faced district, is something of a remarkable story in and of itself. Longtime friends and party allies express their pride at her ascent to her now-prominent position, but her candidacy surprised them—even though she was no stranger to politics and the particulars of the Beltway. Markey grew up in a D.C. suburb across the Potomac River in Virginia, worked in Washington after graduating from the University of Florida, spent time leading the Larimer County Democrats in Fort Collins, and then spent nearly two years as the northeast regional director for then-Senator Ken Salazar, for whom she managed offices and was a sort of Johnny-on-the-spot to resolve constituent issues. In those jobs, she'd always seemed more interested in being the invisible hand than the public face, the operator whose political aspirations ended where the stage began. "Betsy was always about helping," Waak says. "When she talked about what politicians could do for their constituents, she really meant it. There was something very altruistic about her, but not in a silly way."

Markey's worldview was shaped by being the sixth of seven children born to Irish-Catholic parents. Her father was a Democrat; her mother, a Republican. "I took the best parts from both of them," Markey says. "Mom was the one in the family who took care of the finances, to the point that Dad would complain that she never gave him enough lunch money." She laughs. "Mom was concerned about not spending above your means. Dad dropped out of high school and got his GED, so he was the one who wanted to make sure everyone had an equal opportunity and that no one was forgotten."

After enrolling at the University of Florida as a political science major in 1974, she became a Democrat. "It was very hard for [my mother]," Markey remembers, citing the abortion conflicts between the Catholic Church and her party as one of the primary debates she and her mother had. It was a spiritual, philosophical issue she was still trying to work out when she graduated in 1978. Roe v. Wade had been settled five years earlier, and Markey had gone to work as a low-level staffer for a Democratic congressman. Even now, with the issue resolved in her mind—"It's a decision between a woman, her family, and her faith"—the rift between her values and her church's values still bothers her. "I was brought up Catholic, so it was in my DNA, but I was very angry with my church because I agreed with almost everything— immigration, social justice. But some of the stances were too much for me," she admits. "I've come to the conclusion that my relationship with the church is like the one that anyone has with their parents. Sometimes you're mad at them, and you might not always agree with them, but they're still your parents, and you're always going to love them. The Catholic Church is still home to me."

She points to her husband. "Jim went the other way."

"No longer Catholic," he says.

Markey worked for six years after college—first in congressional offices, then as an aide to a vice president at American University (where she earned a master's in public administration), and finally at the departments of State and Treasury—then married Kelly in 1984. Less than a year later, she was promoted and took over the computer security, policy, and training wing at the State Department, a high-level job that took her around the world.

Instead of reveling in her career, though, Markey found herself wanting to be home with her new family. The tipping point came during a weeklong trip to East Berlin in 1987. "I kept calling home so I could talk to [my first daughter] Katie, but she was always sleeping," says Markey, who was pregnant with her second child. "She's only one year old, and I'm begging Jim to put the phone next to her so I can hear her breathing. It was a terrible feeling." When she left East Berlin, her phone charges exceeded her room bill. "I looked at myself and said, 'I can't do this anymore.' "

Markey quit her job a few months later. Kelly had started his own boutique technology firm, Syscom Services, an early e-mail provider for D.C. nonprofits. Finance, however, was not Kelly's strong suit: His filing system consisted of pieces of paper stored in brown bags. "He wasn't making money because he was making a sale and just throwing it into the bags," Markey remembers. "I got the bags, and my mom and I poured everything out onto the dinner table. From then on, I handled the finances."

By 1995, Markey had two more children, Erin and Al. "Things got to a point with Syscom where things could run well without us being there all the time," Kelly says. The two sold part of their company and decided to move "to a state with good schools, a place where we could live one of those small-town idyllic lives," Kelly says. (The couple's net worth today, according to Kelly, is less than $5 million.) The family came to Colorado at the suggestion of Markey's oldest sister, who lived in Denver. "We wound up driving all over, and then we came to Fort Collins," Markey says. "We saw this guy taking groceries from his car. There were toys all over his lawn, so we figured we'd go and ask him what the town was like for kids. He invited us in for tea, and we were sold."

Likewise, after a short time, Fort Collins was sold on Markey. Two years after they'd arrived in town, she and Kelly bought a faltering sandwich joint in the city's Old Town District and named it Huckleberry's. Recast as a coffee-and-ice-cream hangout, the shop quickly turned a profit.

It was the beginning of Retail Politics 101 for Markey. She started a buy-10-coffees-get-one-free promotion and kept the cards under the cash register so she'd have to remember her customers' names. Markey gave her children after-school tutorials in small-business economics. One day, she caught then 10-year-old Erin lecturing a Huckleberry's customer on the inefficiencies of the homemade fudge-making business, citing the costs of infrastructure, ingredients, and labor.

After the store closed for the night, Markey would invite friends over and "we'd talk about taxes and health care," she remembers. "They were just good, regular kitchen-table discussions."

One friend suggested that Markey volunteer at the Food Bank for Larimer County, which she did. That led to a position as the Food Bank's chairwoman of the board, where she helped raise $850,000 in capital campaign for a building expansion. Just as she'd done in Washington, Markey obliterated the learning curve. She started a group for Democratic business owners, then in 2001 was named chairwoman of the Larimer County Democratic Party and helped register thousands of new voters. In 2004, Colorado elected the state's Democratic attorney general, Ken Salazar, as its junior U.S. senator. Two months later, Markey was working for him. "Every step I was taking in life was leading me" toward Congress, she says. "The whole time, I was learning about finance, how to meet people, and how to take care of problems. Somewhere along the way, all of that became who I was."

Markey's decision to step into the national spotlight is quintessentially American in its idealism and, some would say, in its naïveté: "I just thought I could help people," she says today. In 2007, Salazar encouraged his protégé to challenge the incumbent. "Musgrave didn't seem to care" about voters, Kelly says. "Betsy had spent so much of her life working one-on-one with people. It was her forte."

Salazar called Pat Waak and told her that he knew someone who could beat Musgrave. "I'm like, 'Betsy Markey?' " Waak says today. "It's not that she wasn't well-qualified, but you look to the usual suspects: the people who lost before, then people in state politics who might want a chance. I wouldn't have thought about Betsy."

Waak had a conversation with Markey and told her the Democratic field was getting crowded. At the time, three candidates—including former state Representative Angie Paccione, a former Stanford University basketball player who'd been the House Majority Caucus Chair—were expected to run in the Democratic primary. The state Democrats couldn't back anyone until after the primary race. "I was fine with that," Markey says. "I was going to show them that I was someone who needed to be taken seriously."

One of her first campaign visits was at a picnic in Yuma County, southeast of Fort Collins. Waak, who arrived before anyone else, was sitting at a table when, as she remembers, "here comes Betsy, dressed like a little cowgirl." Markey shook hands all afternoon and had remembered nearly everyone's first name by nightfall.

"She just killed them," Waak says. "Right then, I knew this was it."

The Northern Colorado Cowboy Church is a former honky-tonk saloon that's made mostly of barn wood and was remodeled with the sweat of plainspoken, God-fearing Republicans. The building is tucked between a roadside motel ($45 per night, HBO and local calls included) and some grain silos across U.S. 85—a barren stretch of highway abutted on both sides by rutted fields that run north to Cheyenne. It's jumper-cable cold this Sunday morning in January, and children are spilling out of their parents' growling, diesel-fueled Dodge Rams and pouring through the church's doors, where their pastor—a smooth-faced man dressed in a tan hat, a brown plaid shirt, Cinch jeans, and a belt buckle the size of a cow's hoof that reads "Jesus Is Lord"—bids them good-morning in a country drawl.

A few hundred people are taking their seats inside the cavernous main room when a white Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid pulls off the road and rolls to a stop in the parking lot. The few people still outside stare as the woman gets out of her eco-friendly ride one high-heeled boot at a time. She ain't from these parts. Nope, this lady looks lost. But before anyone can offer their help, she walks past them, smiling at the staring faces. She opens the church door and sees the pastor.

"Hello!" Markey chirps, sticking out her hand. "I'm here for church."

Inside the auditorium—a converted dance floor with spotted cowhides tacked to the wall and an American flag on the stage—a "praise-and-worship" band is fiddling and strumming away while 450 people lower their heads in unison to pray. The church's pastor, Darin Gleghorn, adjusts his hat and takes the stage. "Lord," the pastor says, "you are our Daddy. You are our Father." He prays for "our people in Congress and the Senate and our president." And then he makes an announcement: "I'd like to introduce Congresswoman Betsy Markey, who's come all the way from Washington, D.C., to be with us today!"

From the middle of the third row, Markey raises a hand. The applause is light. She puts her hand down, but the few folks keep clapping. A few more start in, then some more. Soon, everyone's applauding. One person stands. Then another. Now almost everyone is standing. Markey looks almost embarrassed and mouths the words "thank you" to these people, her constituents, patting her heart to show them how much this moment means to her.

Gleghorn lets the applause settle before telling his parishioners that his wife, Lynette, will be speaking today. "Let's get a woman's common sense up here!" the pastor says of his wife.

Markey nearly jumps out of her seat in excitement. "That's right!" she yelps.

Lynette Gleghorn is dressed in brown cowboy boots, brown pants, a denim jacket, and is dripping in turquoise jewelry. Her delivery is part Pat Robertson, part Conan O'Brien, part Dr. Laura, and for a moment it seems she is speaking directly to her congresswoman: ".... And God promised to Abraham, 'I will make you a great nation, I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.' " She steps off the stage. "You are not given prosperity and financial provisions so that you can sit on your fat butt and look good to everybody else," Lynette says. "The reason you are given financial prosperity is so that you are blessed to meet your needs and help other people meet their needs. That is Biblical prosperity. Amen?"

"Amen," Markey says.

A half hour later, the service ends and the band whips up again.

A woman taps Markey on the shoulder; her son can't get health insurance. Another woman stands behind Markey; her husband just lost his job. There's a man back there, too; he's been getting his disability checks late. Markey listens and then has her district director hand out his business cards to anyone who wants one. Afterward, she waits in line to talk to Lynette, who's ministering at the foot of the stage. Two cowboys block her way.

"You'll have to wait here, ma'am," one of the cowboys tells her.

Lynette waves the congresswoman over. "It was such an honor to have you here," she beams, putting Markey's hands in hers. "I really hope you enjoyed being here."

"Oh, I did," Markey tells the pastor. "You were amazing. I hope you'll have me back."

The two share a smile and say good-bye. With that, Markey heads for the parking lot. She's smiling.

"I think that went well," she tells her aide. "Those were remarkable people. And so nice. That pastor was amazing."

At this moment, many months from Election Day, there's a confidence in Markey's voice that perhaps she hasn't had in months. She's made inroads here, Markey knows. "I'm so glad I came," she says. She gets into her hybrid, and in a few moments she's speeding down U.S. 85.

The following month, Markey and her husband are chessing out her next move. It's still four weeks before her health-care vote, and she hasn't made a decision, though it seems as if she's leaning against supporting the proposal. The costs of the package are on her mind, a concern that eases when the Congressional Budget Office reports that the reform package would cut $1.3 trillion from the deficit over 20 years. Three days before the March vote, she informs House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office that she's gone from "undecided" to a firm "yes." "Of course," Markey says, "they were elated."

As for her constituents, "I've been pretty evenly split on calls" that support or oppose the legislation. "I made what I thought was the right decision," she said in late March. "The status quo was unsustainable."

Now, the challenge shifts to selling her decision to the folks in the 4th District. "There are times when members of Congress vote for what they think is the right thing to do," Waak says. "It may not be totally in keeping with some of their constituents. At the very least, they owe their constituents an explanation of how they came to that decision."

Heading into the spring, her political life certainly looked challenging, though not as dire as it had first appeared. Cory Gardner, the conservative state representative, had blown past four opponents in the Republican caucus, had raised about $274,000 (in the first quarter of this year), and had declared that his candidacy would focus on repealing the newly passed health-care legislation. "I Need Your Help Today to Defeat the Markey/Pelosi 'Healthcare' bill," Gardner wrote to his Twitter followers in mid-March, tying Markey back to the controversial House speaker. Then came the prominent editorial (Denver Post: "Betsy Markey caved to partisan interests and abandoned her initial principled opposition to flawed health care legislation") and the Palin campaign promise.

In a matter of weeks, the 4th District went from a referendum on Markey's legislative work to something much more complex: The 4th had become a potential bellwether, a national Rorschach test, on the Obama administration, on human values, on liberal versus conservative, and on the country's future. And there was Besty Markey, right in the middle of it all.

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].