While the Obama whirlwind swept through Jefferson County in the Nov. 4 election, it failed to engulf traditionally Republican House District 25.
Some predicted that Cheri Gerou, an Evergreen Republican, would not be able to hang on to the seat that had been a Republican stronghold under Rob and John Witwer for the last six years.
But in her first run for political office, Gerou surprised the naysayers and parlayed a message of fiscal responsibility, a Republican registration advantage, mountain residency and solid financial resources into a big win.
Gerou snagged a 10 percent margin against newcomer Andrew Scripter of Arvada, who hoped to capitalize on a statewide, Obama-fueled Democratic surge. The vote was 22,408 to 18,131 in favor of Gerou.
Gerou managed to beat back the effects of an intensely negative $39,000 postcard campaign of four mailings underwritten by a 527, or third-party, organization. Based in Washington, D.C., Accountability for Colorado was bankrolled by national concerns over which local entities have no control.
One such ad pictured Gerou as the best friend of a cigar-chomping big-oil figure for taking a stand against Amendment 48, which would have raised the severance tax on the energy industry.
Negative ads ‘a joke’
The negative ads were not his choice, Scripter said. “I wish they had stayed out of it. … I think they were a joke. I have no control over anything some special interest organization does.”
Scripter said he was willing to put out a joint statement deploring the negative ad campaign but that the other side declined.
“The real issue was the demographics of the district,” he said. “People voted along party lines, and we split the unaffiliated. The Libertarian candidate usually takes some from the left and some from the right. I was a pretty conservative Democrat, and she was a left-leaning Republican.”
“I knew getting into the race it would be an uphill battle,” said Scripter, who had never run for public office before.
As state Rep. Cheri Jahn from HD 24 in Jefferson County, told him, “It’s very hard to win on your first try.”
Jahn had said, “Andrew, come down to earth.” Later, he realized she was right. “Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George Bush all lost the first time,” Scripter said.
“I’m not going to say I’m running again, but I feel really good. They are going to redistrict in 2010, so who knows?”
Scripter’s 4-year-old twins looked on the bright side. To them, it means “Daddy doesn’t have to go meet the neighbors anymore,” they said, reflecting on the long hours spent going to night and weekend meetings.
Scripter’s campaign manager, Chris Moyer, echoed the candidate’s comments about the 527 mailings.
“I don’t believe negative campaigning ever works. We can’t talk to the 527 about it. I told leadership I want this to be a clean and positive campaign … I think negative campaigning turns people off.”
A little late in the day
Moyer thinks the campaign should have worked harder a little earlier, given the large number of mail-in votes.
“By the last month, 50 percent had already voted,” he said.
Moyer said the numbers showed that even Obama lost in HD 25.
Rob Witwer, the incumbent representative, said voters’ concerns about spending at the statehouse overcame the “tidal wave nationally for Democrats.”
“Dems won statewide and national, but at the local level Republicans did very well,” Witwer said, noting that Republicans netted one and possibly two seats in the state House. “The Dems were strong, but they didn’t win any seriously contested seats,” Witwer said.
It hurt Scripter that the state Democratic Party has been fiscally irresponsible, Witwer said, by increasing property valuations, for instance, as part of the mill-levy freeze. “Cheri has drawn the line on growth of government and argued the state needs to spend more wisely.”
Witwer was critical of the negative campaigning associated with the third-party 527-group postcard mailings targeting Gerou. Scripter got $39,000 from the national outsiders, while Gerou had the most individual $400 contributions.
“I think a lot of people were angry at the negative tactics,” Witwer said.
Gerou said she was definitely concerned about her chances going into the race.
“The Obama campaign made a big difference. Every representative was running against Obama, and having the DNC here made a huge impact,” she said.
Gerou took it as an omen that there were so many Obama/Gerou campaign signs next to each other on people’s lawns.
The best advice she got in the campaign was from John Witwer, Rob’s father, who said, “Be sure you do at least one thing every day for your campaign.”
The linchpin is honesty, someone told her. “Be sure you are always honest, because dishonesty always shows.”
“It’s about being consistent — knowing what I believe in and listening to people,” she said.
House District 25 vote totals
Cheri Gerou, Republican: 22,408, or 48.7 percent
Andrew Scripter, Democrat: 18,131, or 39 percent
Jack Woehr, Libertarian: 1,850, or 4 percent
April 2007 registrations
Republican: 21,515, or 41 percent
Democrat: 13,964, or 26.7 percent
Unaffiliated: 16,616, or 31.8 percent
John McCain/Sarah Palin: 129,290
Barack Obama/Joe Biden: 155,019