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Freshman Democrat fights for a second term in Colorado

By Jim Spellman, CNN
Democrat Betsy Markey is facing a tough re-election bid in Colorado's 4th District.
Democrat Betsy Markey is facing a tough re-election bid in Colorado's 4th District.
  • Markey is the first Democrat to hold the seat since the early 1970s
  • GOP opponent is Cory Gardner is widely seen as the favorite in the House race
  • Markey's biggest opponent might be her own party and her voting record
  • Democrat Joe Perez worries Dems haven't done enough to promote their accomplishments

Fort Collins, Colorado (CNN) -- When Rep. Betsy Markey, a freshman Democrat, arrived back in Colorado a few days ago for the home stretch of her re-election campaign, she knew she had her work cut out for her.

"It was always going to be a tough race. I had a tough fight two years ago. I defeated a Republican incumbent, and I have no illusions that it wasn't going to be a tough race this year," she said.

The 4th District of Colorado is traditionally a comfortable spot for Republicans. Markey is the first Democrat to hold the seat since the early 1970s, and then-GOP presidential candidate John McCain took the district last time around. Republicans hope to reclaim the seat on their way to a majority in the house.

Her Republican opponent is Cory Gardner, a state legislator and part-time farm implement dealer from rural Yuma, Colorado. He is widely seen as the current favorite in the race.

"The philosophy over the next 30 days is: Kick hard -- we're entering the last legs of the race and nobody is going to work harder," he said.

Gardner seemed happy to be out flesh-pressing and back-slapping at a homecoming game at the University of Northern Colorado. He has the easy confidence of a front-runner, and he doesn't have to defend two years of votes during a terrible recession.

"I'm focusing my campaign on the economy. Getting the country back to work, creating jobs and cutting spending," he said.

But in this election, Markey's biggest enemy might not be her Republican opponent, but her own party and her own voting record.

"Betsy Markey has voted 94 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi. She's voted for the four horseman of liberal politics: health care, the stimulus, cap and trade and she co-sponsored card check," Gardner said.

"That's not in line with this district. You can't get anymore out of step with the 4th District than those votes."

Markey did indeed vote for those bills, but she seems to distance herself from some of the signature programs of the Obama administration in a recent TV ad.

"Bailout is just another word for cop-out," she said in the ad.

Markey lives in the college town of Fort Collins and got into politics after a running a tech company and an ice cream parlor. She looked at ease on a sunny Saturday morning in the old town square near where her ice cream parlor once was. She's glad to be back home and glad to be far from the president and her fellow Democrats in Congress.

"I didn't come to Congress just to necessarily represent my party. I came here to be an independent voice for the people of the district, and I don't answer to Republicans or Democrats. I represent the people of the 4th District of Colorado, and I think my voting reflects that," she said.

But the message is a bit mixed. She also defends the stimulus plan, saying it helped save millions of jobs.

"When I took office two years ago the economy was on the verge of collapse," she said. "We had to do something, and I'm proud of the work we've done."

To keep her seat, she'll need her base to get off the sidelines and start getting pumped up. It won't be easy.

Maybe we should pound our chests and say yes, in 21 months we have accomplished a lot.
--Democrat Joe Perez

Hayley Hull is vice president of the college Democrats of Northern Colorado. She said the enthusiasm among young voters that helped propel Barack Obama to the presidency is lacking this year. She aims to change that over the next month.

"A lot of that has fallen off so we're trying to get people to be more involved," she said.

"It's been a little slow so far but were going to do our best."

Democrat Joe Perez is proud of what his party has accomplished, pointing to the health care bill, financial reform and the stimulus program. At a Betsy Markey picnic he worries that Democrats haven't done enough to promote these accomplishments, forcing candidates like Markey to distance themselves from the programs.

"Maybe we should pound our chests and say yes, in 21 months we have accomplished a lot," Perez said.

"Maybe we should, but Dems ain't that way," he said with a laugh.

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