Invisible Salazar may not appeal to voters this year

It’s shaping up to be one of the big political mysteries of the summer — such as how South Carolina Democrats nominated an an unknown, unemployed man with no campaign money or appearances to be their Senate candidate. Our version is: Where is John Salazar?

In the political equivalent of the children’s game of “Where’s Waldo,” voters in western Colorado may be wondering if their congressman should begin wearing a GPS device, such as an ankle monitor, so they can find him, as he doesn’t seem very interested in finding them.

After spending a year dodging voter forums and town halls, it’s getting hard to imagine how the congressman thinks he’s going to be suddenly campaigning (I assume) as though nothing has been going on for the last year and a half.

It’s not that I don’t recognize there are some challenges when he initially became an office holder, in large measure because voters didn’t know if they were voting for John or his brother. However, as now Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s fortunes are plummeting like an overly lubed seagull, riding a brother’s coattails may not now prove to be the greatest strategy.

One wonders if the John Salazar is contemplating a campaign strategy change like that of Sen. Harry Reid’s son, Rory Reid, running for governor of Nevada. His campaign has dropped the association with his father and his family name, and now appears simply to be trying to “Elect, Rory!” Perhaps we’ll see a belated campaign rollout here to “Elect John!”

Whether this Cher approach to campaigning works for Rory or turns up here in the 3rd Congressional District, the problem of how to win over progressives and not motivate conservatives presents a real issue for statist candidates unwilling or unable to present themselves to even slightly conservative voters.

Southpaw blogs and pundits nervously point to the population differential between liberal Front Range enclaves and most of the Western Slope. However, enthusiasm and the grim determination of conservative voters may overwhelm any numerical advantage between East and West. If you doubt that, you might ask former Gov. Bill Owens how that worked out in his first election. If the vote had not broken that way for him, we would’ve had a Gov. Gail Schoettler in 1999.

The Salazar campaign seems to have taken the approach of trying to run a Rose Garden strategy (in presidential elections it’s when the president ignores the challenger and simply acts “presidential”) without actually having a Rose Garden or actions ... or visibility.

Many political observers think Salazar will simply wait until closer to the election, and then use his superior campaign war chest to bombard the airwaves with commercials. My prediction: The candidate on horseback and wearing a white straw cowboy hat gazes at the camera, while someone else does the talking.

Ironically, this is actually an accurate depiction of Salazar’s representation in Congress.

There is no doubt that there is a hefty advantage in campaigning with a large war chest that lets you get your word out across a large, somewhat sparsely populated area that you cannot (or will not) often visit. In most campaign seasons, where there are no burning issues or dissatisfied voters, it is usually a winning ticket for the incumbent.

But this year is different. Voters have questions and want answers from representatives who have neglected to ask constituents their opinions prior to voting or have not taken the time to explain their voting to their constituents.

This is still the West, and in tough times Western voters want to look a candidate in the eye. However, that gets pretty tough when you’ve been invisible and then miraculously appear as a two-dimensional image with all the answers.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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