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Sunday, July 15, 2007

CO-04: Will Musgrave's Moderate Makeover Succeed?

Eastern Colorado's 4th District is home to right wing conservative Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R), who has made a national name for herself as the lead House sponsor of the homophobic federal marriage amendment in the past two Congresses. During the 2006 campaign, Musgrave told the Family Research Council, “As we face the issues that we are facing today, I don’t think there’s anything more important out there than the marriage issue.”

Her singular focus on this divisive issue - and lack of attention to her district - led to a very narrow 2006 victory margin (Musgrave got only 46% of the vote!) against Democratic nominee Angie Paccione. Paccione is back for another run in 2008 - and will face a primary discussed here.

Mad Marilyn seems to have been scared straight (well, maybe there's a better word choice) - and is in the midst of a "radical" moderate makeover. It's important for Democrats to expose this makeover for the PR-driven sham it is.

Ironically, life in the minority has provided Musgrave the freedom to move toward the middle, as her 'signature issue' is a non-starter in the Democratic-controlled House. So, what has she been up to? She's pumping gas, canvassing her constituents, and publicly releasing her earmark requests, an effort at transparency that also helps illustrate how she's taking care of the 4th district voters.

Working with another Colorado politician courting the moderate vote in his run for Senate, progressive Rep. Mark Udall, Musgrave has turned her attention to locally important farm policy. She's also worked in bipartisan partnership with Dem Rep John Salazar to prevent the US Army's Fort Carson expansion into Pinon Canyon.

A formerly loyal GOP foot-soldier, Musgrave has jumped on the 'anti-Bush' bandwagon and made "nice-nice" with Mark Udall to the point the Denver Post is touting the bipartisan "New Musgrave"

Coming off a narrow election win in November and criticism that she wasn't accessible to her constituents, the third-term Colorado congresswoman is undergoing a political makeover.
"I feel like I've worked hard for the past five years, but when you're criticized for not being as in touch with your constituents as you should be, I need to respond with humility," she said. "People criticize me for not doing things, and then when I prove them wrong and do them, they say, 'She's doing it because she had a close race.' It's a no-win situation."
Perhaps, say political observers, but Musgrave's makeover is a smart move considering Republicans are struggling to say afloat nationally, and a number of Democrats are showing interest in trying to topple her in next year's election.
"It's a clearly calculated, born-again political image," said John Straayer, political-science professor at Colorado State University, which is in Musgrave's 4th Congressional District.

So far Musgrave's new image hasn't translated into votes. During the current Congress, she's voted with her party 96 percent of the time, according to a vote database on WashingtonPost.com. (emphasis added)

OK, so Marilyn may not be as clueless as the average Republican CongressCritter. She's listening to her constituents and she's cooperating with her colleagues across the aisle. Will this make her 2008 reelection easier?

The national parties are not ignoring this race.

The Republicans are worried. The NRCC recently added Musgrave to the ROMP (Regain Our Majority Program) list of most vulnerable incumbents.

The Democrats are hopeful. Not to be outdone, the DCCC also serving notice Musgrave is also on their radar screen by including her as one of the GOP incumbents targeted by ads over the Independence Day recess:

The battle for the High Plains has begun. But, the fact that Democrats are playing offense on this traditional Republican turf speaks volumes about how the political dynamic has changed.

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Cross-posted at An Enduring Democratic Majority.

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