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Dennis, the menaced 

With the GOP already targeting his House seat, Apuan preps for an election 16 months away

Six years ago, Michael Merrifield was the local Democrat who'd enraged the elephants by picking up a state House seat in their El Paso County stronghold.

Republicans went big to derail his re-election bid in 2004, running attack ads and even hiring an operative to snoop outside his Manitou Springs home.

"It was very nasty," says Merrifield, now midway through his fourth term. "I was the No. 1 target in the entire state."

Today, term-limited from running again, Merrifield has a unique vantage point from which to watch Rep. Dennis Apuan, the latest Democrat to snatch a formerly Republican House seat here, try to hold his ground.

"Republicans have been jockeying to attack him the whole session," Merrifield says. "A lot of money will be spent to unseat him."

Merrifield's experience is the clear subtext as Apuan gathers with close to 50 supporters July 9 at Glad's Original BBQ, in his southeast Colorado Springs district. The goal is to energize Apuan's fundraising — just eight months after he won the seat, and 16 months before he'll defend it.

"Friends," he says, "we should not be complacent with our victories."

Today's "friends" include House Speaker Terrance Carroll, who missed the opening innings of a Rockies game in Denver to give the evening's keynote address.

Carroll starts out defending Apuan against a line of attack coming from Catherine "Kit" Roupe, his opponent last year for House District 17, and a cadre of local Republican representatives. They've blasted Apuan in letters and op-eds for his stance on the Army's Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado.

On a bill blocking the sale of state land to expand the site, Apuan actually voted the way they would have: against. Where Apuan failed, they argue, is in getting other Democrats to oppose it, too. (Gov. Bill Ritter signed HB 1317 into law in early June.) Since Fort Carson is in his district, they say, he should've raised hell.

"To show how desperate they are," Carroll says, laughing, "the only line of attack they could come up with is that you're too quiet."

If last year's election is any indication, there will be other volleys. Taking a dim view of Apuan's past as a peace activist, Roupe labeled him in a mailing as a "violent, anti-war, anti-military protester."

Already planning a 2010 rematch, Roupe would not say if she'll pursue similar lines again; instead, she insists she will run a campaign "focused on the issues."

Roupe, however, is not guaranteed the Republican nomination. At least two others are said to be interested, including Mark Barker, a local attorney who plans to make a formal announcement in August.

Whomever Apuan faces in 2010, one thing going for him is that local Republicans will have a full plate of priorities. They'll be trying to retake Merrifield's open seat and attempting to dislodge Senate Majority Leader John Morse.

Also, Apuan may find hope in Merrifield's experience: After winning in 2002 by only 112 votes, Merrifield withstood the nastiness in '04 to win by 3,500.

lane@csindy.com

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