Why Did Peter Coors Lose??
By Daniel G. Jennings
The most intriguing Congressional races in the 2004 elections were here in my home state of Colorado where the moderately Democratic Salazar brothers captured a Senate and a House seat formerly held by Republicans. And they did it in a red Bush state in the midst of a historic Republican victory.
So how did the Salazars pull it off? Well Ken Salazar was one of the few Democrats who was able to take advantage of the values issue. Ken's opponent was beer baron Pete Coors. Coors' family has made a huge fortune selling watered down beer to lower income people. His advertisements include scantily clad women, raunchy sophomoric humor, and hints of lesbianism. Obviously all the evangelicals and social conservatives who came out to vote for Bush were not going to vote for this day.
Salazar made skillful use of Coors' family business pointing out that Coors has suggested lowering the drinking age to 18 and tying it to drunken driving. A surefire appeal to values voters.
Then Salazar made a strong effort to cultivate rural voters, he drove around the state in his pickup truck and visited virtually every small town in the state. This wasn't a silly publicity stunt like Kerry's hunting trips it was real. There Salazar presented himself as just folks a man of the people in true Harry Truman fashion one of us. That worked, Salazar is a fifth generation Coloradoan who still lives on the family farm. The values card played well in those areas as well.
Salazar also made strong use of the environment. Most Coloradoans moved here from somewhere else because of the beautiful scenery. They came to fish, to hunt, hike, ski and enjoy the mountains. Any threat to that scenic beauty is taken seriously. Salazar was able to paint Coors as an evil corporate polluter. The environment especially when it is connected with natural beauty is an issue that resonates with average Americans. Salazar took advantage of it.
Salazar's brother, Jim a potato farmer from the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado, did much the same thing in the Third District of Colorado. He won the congressional seat in a rural and mountainous area. He used identical tactics to those of his brother and they worked.
Of course changes in the population of that area have helped. Large numbers of new residents many of them retired middle class professionals from places like California and Texas have moved in. Economic changes have driven out many traditional residents like miners and ranchers. Many of these new residents are socially and politically liberal and inclined to vote Democratic.
So what do the Salazar victories mean for the nation and both major parties? First, the Democrats can take advantage of the values issues and turn the tables on the Republicans if they play their cards right. Second, Democrats can still appeal to the Red State voters if they are willing to treat those people with respect and understanding and appeal to the issues that they care about.
The Coors loss also shows that Republicans can't win simply by talking about taxes and warning about Democrats raising taxes. Coors did that, he flooded the airwaves with commercials talking about all the new taxes Salazar would support. It didn't work, the Republican base voters voted their values over their economics. They were willing to vote for a tax and spend Democrat if he or she takes the right position on values. That's something Republicans ought to pay attention to.
The Salazar victories in Colorado prove that the Democratic Party is far from dead and can still win. These victories also show that the values issues can be turned against Republicans by shrewd Democrats and that voters will respond to Democrats who are willing to take the right stand on values. Both parties should pay attention to the recent events in Colorado because they show that the political situation is still volatile and Republican victory is far from assured.