The Denver Post today discusses the effect of the presidential race on Colorado politics, specifically the effects of Kerry's unpopularity and Bush's popularity. The fact is that while Bush may demonstrate coattails for Coors, Kerry is more likely to act as an anchor for Salazar, a fact that Ken's brother John, who's running for a House seat, apparently recognized a couple of weeks ago.
Salazar has the Daschle Problem. No, he hasn't gone around hugging Michael Moore. But he knows that he can only get elected running as something he's not - an independent moderate.
Salazar portrays himself as a political moderate, the fellow from the San Luis Valley who wears a cowboy hat and transcends party labels. It worked in his statewide campaigns for attorney general, especially two years ago when he won a vast majority of the counties even as Republican Bill Owens easily won re-election as governor.
Campaigning in a cowboy hat, and putting a cowboy boot on his site as a fundraising device have helped cement this image. Having been Attorney General helps any Democrat look like a law-and-order kind of guy. But this is the first election where Salazar has had to run 1) on national issues, and 2) as a lawmaker rather than a law-enforcer. Salazar has no choice but to triangulate these issues, coming out with policy proposals that are practically mimeographs of Kerry's, while talking about independence.
He's run hard against Bush, but has had to distance himself from Kerry, skipping the last few local appearances by the national ticket. But much of his strategy seems to mirror that of the national ticket. Consider this from the Durango Herald about a weekend campaign appearance there:
Democrat Ken Salazar said Friday that homeland security will be his top priority if he wins his race against Republican Pete Coors in November's election for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
"I think the first and most important priority we as a nation need to uphold is to protect the nation and the homeland," Salazar said.
While Salazar has mentioned national security in general terms before, he's clearly made education and health care the centerpieces of his campaign. Just at the moment that Kerry begins attacking Bush over Iraq, Salazar discovers national security.
Coors has begun linking Salazar to Kerry on taxes. That's fine for a start, but Kerry and Salazar have a lot of liberal proposals on health care and education, proposals which aren't like to be popular here if properly vetted.
Salazar is caught between a rock and a hard place. He's tried to nationalize the race by running against Bush, but the more he does so, the more he risks running as Little Kerry. It's time to close the trap.
Cross-Posted at Salazar v. Coors.