DENVER (AP) – The goal for Colorado Republicans this November is to control the state Legislature, but first they’ll have to survive some bruising primary fights that have would-be allies taking powerful swings at each other.
The candidates insist the economy is what matters most ahead of next Tuesday’s elections, but some of harshest attacks have come out of the legislative battle over civil unions.
A plan that would have extended legal protections for same-sex couples divided statehouse Republicans who defeated it. And the split has taken prominence in several campaigns.
Republican incumbent state Sen. Jean White, who was among a handful from her party who supported civil unions, faces a primary challenge from Republican Rep. Randy Baumgardner in northwestern Colorado.
Mailers opposing White from a Virginia-based group show two men kissing and question her values.
“I have been hit pretty hard with my support for civil unions,” White said.
Meanwhile, Baumgardner has been slammed with news that a convicted sex offender who failed to register lives at his house. In light of that, White said she’s surprised her opponent’s supporters would question her morals.
Baumgardner did not respond to calls for comment. He told The Denver Post in a statement last week that he wanted to provide the 32-year-old man a second chance by giving him work.
White said she’s not wavering from her support of civil unions and that she believes voters are more concerned about the economy.
“I’d like to think that people are reasonable and that they understand that there’s a lot more important things right now,” she said.
Groups supporting civil unions have come to White’s aid because she’s one of three Republicans – all women – who supported the legislation in the Senate, which Democrats control by five seats. Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the House, where civil unions died after GOP leaders stopped floor work to prevent a vote.
Democrats also face primaries next week, but they haven’t been as lively. Democrats won the battle over state redistricting last year, putting several Republican incumbents in the same districts and placing some seats in areas where GOP supporters are in the minority.
Some Republican incumbents chose not to run to avoid ugly primaries, but Republican Rep. Marsha Looper stayed in a race against House GOP Leader Amy Stephens in the conservative stronghold of El Paso County.
Looper said economic issues will rule the day. But the primary has not been devoid of civil union controversy.
Earlier this month, Looper’s campaign manager forwarded an email to voters from a conservative group praising Looper for voting against civil unions despite having a gay son. Looper said she’s disappointed in her campaign manager and that her family’s personal lives are off limits.
Still, she took a swipe at Republican leadership for how they handled the civil union bill, which cleared three GOP-led committees before blowing up in a showdown in the House floor, where it would’ve passed if it had a vote. Looper said Republican leaders should’ve never let it get that far.
Looper criticized Stephens, saying “if the intention was to always kill the civil unions bill, then like other legislation, it would be sent to a committee where it would have a fair hearing, but where it ultimately dies.”
Looper said Stephens “doesn’t have a conservative record to stand on.”
Stephens said she’s heard from voters that they’re put off by negative campaigning.
“People have said, ‘You know what, you’ve been decent. You’ve run a decent campaign,'” she said.
Looper and other conservatives have criticized Stephens for sponsoring legislation to create a health insurance marketplace, a requirement under the federal health law being reviewed by the Supreme Court. Opponents have derided Stephens, calling her bill last year “AmyCare.”
Stephens said it’s “laughable” that Looper is trying to paint her as not conservative enough.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “But if you were her, that’s kind of what you have to do.”
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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