5:04am

Mon September 24, 2012
A Word With The Candidates

In Solidly Republican CD4, Democrat Shaffer Underdog To Incumbent Gardner

  • Nathan Heffel for Morning Edition

Colorado’s vast 4th Congressional District is nearly as big as the state of North Carolina. But it now includes different territory then incumbent Republican Cory Gardner won two years ago. Noticeably absent is Larimer County – which redistricting excluded last year. But that’s not stopping Democrat Brandon Shaffer from trying to make inroads in a solidly conservative electorate.

Skirting the eastern plains, much of the 4th district’s economy is rooted in agriculture. However, oil and gas development has boomed lately, because of the lucrative Niobrara Shale formation, and an emerging wind energy sector is also taking hold along the plains.

Congressman Cory Gardner touched on that diversity during a recent campaign barbeque in Greeley. But he says the economic policies affecting each of the district’s 22 counties are largely the same.

“Well you still have the bulk of the population living in Northern Colorado between Longmont and Weld County. And then you have the Douglas County parts, and it’s still the economy is not a different economy for Douglas County as it is in Elbert County.”

Elbert and Douglas County are among the newest additions to the district after boundary lines were redrawn.

With so many new constituents both Cory Gardner and Democratic challenger Brandon Shaffer face a similar challenge going into November – name recognition.

"The issues [in the district] are very diverse, but I think the core issue that is really bothering people is the influence of special interest money, and the influence they have on Washington D.C."

Becca Casarez owns a country home and décor store on Main Street in downtown Parker in Douglas County. An undecided Democrat, Casarez says she has no idea who's running for congress in her district. And figuring out who they are is the least of her worries.

“For me I’m holding on with a thread, so I take it day by day. You know we of course want to see changes. But I don’t really know what the right answer is because I think it’s really a roll of the dice.”

It’s a gamble that state Senate President Brandon Shaffer is hoping to capitalize on as he crisscrosses the district.

“You know, we’re knocking on a lot of doors. What’s fun about this campaign is it’s really a true grass roots campaign, having conversations with people, you know –house to house to house, and really connecting with the electorate of the 4th Congressional District,” said Shaffer.

During a stop at Aims Community College in Greeley, Shaffer says the people he’s spoken to are upset with the status quo, and the gridlock inside the DC beltway.

"The issues [in the district] are very diverse, but I think the core issue that is really bothering people is the influence of special interest money, and the influence they have on Washington DC.”

Shaffer has attacked Gardner on the campaign trail and in recent TV ads as someone who’s already tied to special interest lobbyists after a single term in office.

Still, the 4th district is heavily conservative and its new boundaries give Cory Gardner the advantage when it comes to the number of registered Republicans, more than 73,000 compared to the old district. Gardner says he’s not counting on party affiliation to win re-election with more than 100,000 independent voters on the books.

Cory Gardner at a campaign event speaking with a former teacher.
Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

“It’s the same thing we saw when we were running against Betsy Markey. That people didn’t know who I was, because this was her district and I was the challenger. And so we’re doing the same thing we did then. It’s just methodical hard working every day work house mentality, to get into Parker, Castle Rock, Douglas County, to introduce myself to voters.”

Gardner also has the advantage when it comes to fundraising, with just over one million dollars on hand. Shaffer has a fourth of that.

But, unlike his opponent, Gardner has done little with his campaign website and has yet to run any TV ads.

This might be why Chef and co-owner of Elevation 5900 in Parker Alec Erickson is still undecided this election. A recent transplant to the city, Erickson says he doesn’t know either of the candidates. And he’s exactly the type of voter that both Cory Gardner and Brandon Shaffer are trying to win over.

"I mainly voted for one party and did it that way. But this election, I’m going to do a little more research, especially this year since I haven’t really done much.”

Two other candidates are also vying to represent the 4th Congressional District. Doug Aden is running on the American Constitution Party ticket. Josh Gilliland is the Libertarian candidate.

Early voting begins in Colorado on October 22nd.

You can follow Nathan Heffel on Twitter: @Heffeln

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