bny Ted Manna
American Reporter Correspondent
September 18, 2007
OBAMA, CLINTON FIRE FIRST SALVOS - AT EACH OTHER
DENVER, Colo., Sept. 17, 2007 -- The Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton presidential campaigns today fired the first serious salvos in the war to win votes in the West, as Sen. Obama's national co-chairman Federico Peņa announcing the opening this week of the first official campaign office in Denver, Colo., and an appearance by would-be First Husband, former President Bill Clinton, at the "Hillary for President" fundraiser in Boulder today.
Obama is the first candidate to concentrate his efforts in this
pivotal Western state. His volunteer recruiters are already in
place and began building a team of precinct captains and leaders at a "Colorado Caucus Convention" last week. He has already raised more money here in campaign contributions than any of the other front-runners in the
Democratic race for the presidency.
But, hold on! An African- American running for the most powerful position if the world? A scant 50 years ago, then President Eisenhower had to call up federal troops to protect black students trying to enroll at the Little Rock, Ark. High School. The Civil Rights Act had just been passed, but it wasn't put to the test until much later.
In Denver, 40 years ago, 20,000 mostly "Negro" delegates to the Baptist National Convention were told that outsiders working "under the guise of helping people to gain their rights" were to blame for the racial unrest sweeping the country. Dr. Joseph H. Jackson, Convention president, quoted in the Sept. 10, 1967 Denver Post, told a reporter, "The people did not know the evil results that were in the making for them."
Now, from the streets of Chicago, one of the sites of the "race riots" in 1967, strides long-legged Sen. Barak Obama, the man with best chance of defeating Republicans among all Democratic candidates, according to recent polls in Colorado. His grassroots campaign appeals to independents and unaffiliated voters. Oprah Winfrey's high-profile support hasn't hurt. Adding Peņa, a former Denver Mayor and two-time Clinton-era cabinet officer, could give a boost to the Illinois Democrat in Colorado and elsewhere, particularly about the growing Latino vote.
Early primaries and the February caucuses will be here before we know it. Will "building an organization from the ground up" be enough to propel the candidates to the Presidency or will they succumb to the lure of huge amounts of cash from special interest groups?
At the Democratic Presidential debate recently, former Alaska Democratioc U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel, now a presidential candidate, fumed "You're hearing about how all this money is going to be spent to do all these great things. Don't believe a word of it. You can't have all this money coming at you and think [other candidates] are now going to deal with the problems of special interests."
Robert Frank, in his new book, "Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich," postulates that a massive influx of cash plowed into the Democratic coffers during the 2004 and 2006 Colorado state elections by four wealthy Coloradans dubbed "The Gang of Four" changed the face of politics in that state. Jared Polis, Internet entrepreneur, Congressional candidate and one of the Gang of Four, has publicly insisted that the Democratic gains in Colorado were mostly the result of voter discontent with the Republicans.
Yet pollsters and Republicans say the Gang of Four was largely responsible for the 2004 upset. "They came together and they had a profound effect," said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based independent pollster. "But for them, the Democrats wouldn't have won."
Watch your back if the big money doesn't think you are Democrat enough, however. Bill Winter, who ran an unsucessful campaign against Congressman Tom Tancredo (now a Presidential candidate), said in an exclusive interview with The American Reporter, "If you can get some excitement going, you can make a splash, but it's hard to win without money."
Still bitter because he thinks he was "hung out to dry" by the Democrats in his bid to unseat Tancredo, Winter described himself as a "sacrificial lamb."
"The Democratic money decided before the election that we couldn't win," he said. "We still raised $800,000 and garnered 42 percent of the vote with zero support from the state or the party. There is so much cynicism in politics. It's all about money and advertising."
Winter believes that campaign backers in Colorado are "sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see who the frontrunner is before they commit. I have more respect for people who support candidates for their stand on the issues, not waiting to see who rises to the top," he said.
Rutt Bridges, one of the Gang of Four, responded to The American Reporter in a terse email claiming that his funding arm, the Bighorn Center, "makes no contributons to political candidates and does not support them."
None of this dampens the enthusiasm of 28-year-old Ray Rivera, Obamas' state director of the Colorado volunteer effort. Tall, good looking, and earnest, Rivera wants to tap into what Time magazine last week said was an "American hunger to be asked to do something, with polls showing volunteerism and civic participation at near all-time highs." Rivera took time before the packed caucus meeting to talk with The American Reporter.
Rivera said he was encouraged by "the energy and grass roots support behind Barack. Now is the time to get his message out there."
Rivera said the meeting was held to "demystify the caucus process and bring in volunteers. [Obama] is up against big odds. He has been criticized as too young to run the country. He is the only African American to run. But this is the guy that can bring change," he said.
"This is the first step, getting people to participate, then spread the message by word of mouth and keep people in the process until Super Tuesday (February 5th - the date of the Colorado caucus). Even people in the game are amazed at the support, especially from people under 30.
"Obama is filling a void. Young people are looking for a leader they can trust and look up to. Obama did not ask for this. The office seeks the man. He is from the streets of Chicago and we are not forgetting how we got here.
"If we show up, we win."
Winter, a former member of GOP Sen. John McCain's Commerce Committee staff, agreed. "The legacy of Carl Rove and [President] George Bush will be the destruction of the Republicans," he said. Republicans have not won a national election in this state since 2004. There is no Republican machine left in Colorado."
Sen. Obama received key endorsements from Colorado State Senate president pro tempore Peter Goff, Denver School Board president Theresa Peņa and Denver Democratic County Committee vice-chairman Dan Slater, among others. In a telephone call broadcast to the assembly, Obama said "Colorado is a key swing state and we are committed to winning in Colorado. That's why I am so extraordinarily proud of all of you for the very important work that you are doing."
Federico Peņa noted that he is putting together a statewide steering committee of political and civic leaders to advise Obama during his campaign on issues like the war, health care, the economy, immigration, education and alternative energy.
"What's really interesting is that when I travel around the country, I find that people are much the same," Peņa said in an interview with The American Reporter. "We forget that Americans travel and move and change jobs all over the country.
"There might be some shades of difference, but the big picture is we are all pretty much the same," said Peņa, President Clinton's Secretary of Energy from 1997 to 1998 and Secretary of Transportation from 1993 to 1997.