We’re happy to bring you our third Q&A today, and this time we move to the Democratic side of the fence. State Democratic Party Chair Chris Gates has answered our 11 questions and has agreed to answer your questions throughout the day. To ask a question, click on the COMMENTS link at the end of this post and ask away; Chris will check in periodically throughout the day on Tuesday to answer your questions.
But first, we ask that you keep a couple of things in mind:
1. Please be gracious. Chris doesn’t have to take time out of his day to do this, so please respect the fact that he is making himself available. Whether you like him or not, whether you agree with him or not, please be respectful in your comments and questions.
2. He’s not going to give away the Democrats’ strategy just because you asked, so try to stick to questions that are fair to ask him to answer. Don’t ask, for example, what seats he thinks the Dems will target in 2006.
With that said, here are our 11 Questions with Chris Gates:
1. Let’s start with the obvious question: what did Colorado do in 2004 that the rest of the country didn’t in allowing Democrats to be so successful?
Our story is actually pretty simple. We beat the GOP here with better mechanics, better message, more money and better candidates. They were over-confident; we were hungry. They complained about campaign finance reform, we embraced the new laws and raised more money from small donors. They fielded uncertain candidates; we nominated leaders. They talked about fringe social issues; we talked about the real issues that are faced by Colorado's working families. They bickered with each other, and we came together with a shared commitment to winning. It was a great year for Colorado Democrats.
2. Despite the Democrats’ success, what needs to be done differently or better in 2006? What are you going to do differently if re-elected?
For a start, we'll work hard to strengthen our county parties; we'll improve our voter file operation (which has to be an ongoing, never-ending effort); we'll work to register more Democratic voters; we'll run an even more efficient GOTV operation; we'll integrate new technology into our field operation; and we'll work especially hard to bring even more grassroots energy into our party. There is so much that our party can learn by listening to the new grassroots energy in our midst. 2004 was just the beginning for Colorado Democrats.
3. What are the realistic priorities for Democrats in 2006? How would you prioritize holding the legislature, winning the governor’s seat, and picking up a congressional seat?
We have high hopes for 2006 and are already getting ready for that election. First, we need to hold on to our hard-earned victories from 2004, and that starts with defending our turf in the state legislature. I know that Speaker Romanoff and President Fitz-Gerald are already hard at work crunching numbers and recruiting strong candidates. Then we've got all of our statewide offices up, and we have strong candidates looking at each of those.
Mark Udall, Rutt Bridges and Bill Ritter would all make strong candidates for Governor and Dan Grossman will make an excellent Attorney General candidate. We're also talking with some great potential candidates for State Treasurer and Secretary of State. Then, Tom DeLay has said that John
Salazar will be their number one target in the country, and we intend to work hard to let people know that the 3rd district is back in it's rightful hands. We'll be working very hard to recruit strong candidates in each of our other districts. Colorado knows that it can do better than Marilyn Musgrave, Tom Tancredo and Bob Beauprez. The 4th, 6th and 7th will be particular targets for us.
4. What does a State Party Chair do? Help people understand your main functions.
That's a good question. The role of the state party chair has changed dramatically since the passage of McCain-Feingold and Amendment 27. Those laws now make it more complicated to get things done, and they force us to use different parts of the Party to do different things. So a major role of the state party chair is that of traffic cop and peacemaker, making sure that everybody knows what's going on and that we stay coordinated. The state chair also has to take the lead on fundraising, and I'll proudly point out that we raised record amounts of money in the 2004 election cycle. Our party is completely debt free, has upgraded all of our office systems, has comfortable amounts of cash on hand, and has created a system for raising small dollars that will continue to yield strong returns.
It is also critical that the state party chair have strong relationships with all the national entities in Washington, DC, who control targeting decisions, candidate trips and resource allocation. Colorado was a targeted state from beginning to end and we benefited greatly from our strong relationships with the national Kerry-Edwards campaign, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Finally, I believe in the concept of servant leadership, the idea of leading by serving. The state party chair spends a great deal of time solving problems, responding to requests for help, diffusing crises and generally responding to the dozens and dozens of emails and phone calls that arrive each day.
5. What’s your response to the Mike Miles supporters who insist that you actively worked to hurt his campaign? Is there anything you would have done differently?
First, it's important to correct a misimpression that exists out there. I never endorsed Ken Salazar in the primary. In fact, I worked hard to make sure that people correctly described the race. I was very frustrated when the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee didn't include Mike Miles on their Website and I insisted that they include him. And the state chair simply doesn't have the power to choose US Senate nominees - the grassroots of our party picked our nominee in the primary. Are there things I would have done differently? Of course. I've been involved in politics for 30 years and there has never been a cycle when I haven't looked back and learned something.
I'm sorriest for the fact that there are still hard feelings out there about the Senate primary, and my number one priority as state chair will be to work with all of the different parts of the party to find common ground as we move in to the 2006 cycle.
6. There are always a group of people who are angry at being left out when a state party has to make decisions on which races to target. How do party leaders better balance being inclusive with being practical?
Targeting is a reality of modern politics. It is critically important that valuable resources be directed to the place where they can do the most good. But targeting can also be taken too far. I think that any candidate who agrees to run with a "D" after their name deserves some core level of support from the various entities of the state party. We can't recruit people to run and then completely cut them off. The other issue is that targeting decisions are based on specific, hard, measurable criteria. Without giving up our internal strategy to the GOP, I think it's important that we do a better job of explaining what those criteria are and how that process works.
7. Republicans have two candidates for governor already (Holtzman and Coffman) who are actively running for the job. Why hasn’t a Democrat announced a run for governor yet? How much of a disadvantage will it be for Democrats if they wait until May to find a candidate? What is the role of the party chair in all of this?
See my answer to question #3, we have three strong candidates taking a serious look at the Governor's race and I expect we'll know who is in and who is out soon. And there's no built-in advantage or disadvantage to March versus May - we'll be just fine. My job is to make sure that people know that this is a unique race. It's the first time we'll have elected a Governor under the new fundraising rules of Amendment 27 and I want all the potential candidates to know how critical grass-roots fundraising will be in this election. Based on the Republican candidates already in the race, this is a contest we're very much looking forward to.
8. Obviously things are going to change in the next 18 months, but if you had to pick an issue right now that the 2006 election might hinge upon, what issue would that be? How do you see Democrats positioning themselves on that issue?
The GOP had a lock on state government here and they couldn't produce results - it's one of the reasons for our victories last fall. I'll predict that the 2006 election will focus on the fact that Dems have been able to build coalitions and actually get things done in state government. Whether the issue is the fiscal crisis, or schools, or transportation, or jobs, or health care, our party's legislative leadership is focused on delivering for Colorado's working families.
9. What happened with Wellington Webb’s candidacy for DNC Chair? Why couldn’t he generate any momentum?
Mayor Webb was one of seven strong candidates for national party chair. Coloradans and Westerners should be proud of the campaign he ran. He was a thoughtful and forceful advocate for the West and for innovation in our party. In the end, Howard Dean ran the strongest campaign and deserved his victory, but Mayor Webb made a powerful impression all over the country.
10. What does Howard Dean’s election as DNC Chair mean for Colorado? Will Colorado be affected differently than the rest of the country?
I've known Howard Dean for a while and I've always been a fan. I think he is going to be a great national party chair and I was proud to endorse him in the race as soon as Mayor Webb's campaign was completed. Governor Dean is committed to broadening the base of the party and reaching beyond the traditional list of "blue states.”
I've already had several conversations with him and his senior staff about how he can be helpful to us here. He also recognizes that the national party can learn some things from what Colorado was able to accomplish in the last cycle. He's going to be a great partner in our efforts here.
11. If you could wave your hand and make one Colorado sports team win a championship, which team would it be and why? (assuming the NHL still exists)
I'm a Colorado native and grew up rooting hard for the Broncos; I'd be slightly embarrassed to tell you how many Bronco hats and sweatshirts and t-shirts I own. So it's got to be the Denver Broncos.
Got a question for Chris? Click on the COMMENTS link below and ask away. He'll check in throughout the day on Tuesday to answer your questions.