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Hickenlooper's first county visit helps keep the optimism flowing 

The crowd at Palmer High School was much smaller than two years ago, and lacked the outsized emotions of the 2008 presidential primary. But that didn't stop Sen. John Morse from breaking out the grandiose imagery as he gave his endorsement in the Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate.

"How do you get big money out of politics?" he asked the crowd. "I would answer, it's extremely simple: You get little money in."

Morse urged Democrats to side with former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who has pledged not to take campaign money from corporations or political action committees.

"It will change the world [if Romanoff is elected]," Morse said, before asking: "Can you imagine if we sent someone to Washington without a dime of corporate money?"

El Paso County Democrats apparently can imagine doing just that: Romanoff went on to beat Michael Bennet 55 to 45 percent in the vote held among 700 delegates at the El Paso County assembly. At the party's March 16 caucuses, Bennet, who was appointed to the Senate more than a year ago, came out on top by a similar margin.

That reversal last Saturday highlighted a meeting that otherwise included local Democrats taking a clear, often-upbeat look at their prospects in 2010, capped by the first visit from Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper in his campaign to become governor.

Hickenlooper promised to make history of his own by staying away from negative ads. A common promise, yes, but one he says he actually kept in his quest to become Denver's mayor.

"We're going to run a very positive campaign," Hickenlooper told the crowd.

The candidate came across as relaxed and folksy, with a pitch that included the story of how he became a brewpub owner after getting laid off from an energy company. (Eventually, he opened Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. in Colorado Springs.) Hickenlooper praised both Bennet and Romanoff, and asked the crowd to support whichever candidate prevails.

For all the pundits predicting that 2010 will be dismal for his party, Hickenlooper's optimism fits well with El Paso County Dems, who went from having zero candidates in state office 10 years ago to three after the last election.

State Rep. Michael Merrifield, wrapping up eight years in the Legislature and now hoping to become the first Democratic county commissioner elected in decades, added to the mood. He joked about the tea party movement, remarking that the "other side has some people who are pretty fired up."

"They don't know what they're talking about," he added, "but they are fired up."

El Paso County public trustee Tom Mowle, running for county clerk and recorder, argued that Republicans have held power locally for too long. The Democrat criticized term-limited Clerk Bob Balink for a range of policies, including publicly endorsing candidates in elections he's overseeing.That's inappropriate, argued Mowle, who will take his own pledge — not to "publicly campaign for any candidate or ballot initiative" — into a likely battle with Republican and outgoing Commissioner Wayne Williams in November.

lane@csindy.com

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