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Possible target: Sen. Jones 

GOP senator seen as vulnerable in moderate district

click to enlarge John Morse, CEO of Silver Key senior services, could be - the Democratic hope for Senate District 11. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • John Morse, CEO of Silver Key senior services, could be the Democratic hope for Senate District 11.

The slim margin by which Republican Ed Jones was elected to the state Senate four years ago has Democrats eager to field a candidate in what would be bitter and expensive race.

Two weeks ago, Democrat Michael Merrifield of Manitou Springs ruled out a bid for the Senate, choosing instead to seek re-election to the House.

Now, other Democrats are mulling a challenge to Jones, who holds the Senate District 11 seat. It is the most moderate Senate district in El Paso County, spanning downtown Colorado Springs, the city's west side and Manitou Springs.

So far, only John P. Morse, leader of a local nonprofit and former Fountain police chief, is speaking openly about the possibility of a campaign.

"This is gut-wrenching for me," he says, adding that he is navigating how he would split his time between campaigning for office and being CEO of Silver Key senior services.

Democrats want to maintain their grip on both chambers of the Legislature, and Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald says Jones' district appears ripe for a Democratic takeover in November. As of January, the district had more than 23,000 unaffiliated registered voters, 21,000 Republicans and nearly 19,000 Democrats.

"I think it would be foolish to overlook [the district]," says Fitz-Gerald. "The numbers are too good for it not to be."

In 2002, Jones eked out a 653-vote win over Democrat Tony Marino, who faced nasty attacks from Jones supporters. Mailings by a secretive group based in Golden dubbed him a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and a "liar."

Such campaigning has Morse wary as he tests the political waters.

"I have a passion for good government," he says. "But is that going to be enough to justify the pounding I will take?"

Jones, a former county commissioner, at times has proven a lightning rod for controversy.

In early 2004, he introduced a bill to eliminate affirmative action in Colorado. In response, local black civil rights activists threatened Jones, who also is black, with a recall.

Jones did not return calls for this story. However, local attorney and Republican operative Bob Gardner, who registered Jones' campaign, says the senator is poised to raise an amount similar to the $363,000 he raised four years ago.

"We plan on there being an opponent," Gardner says. "If there's not, all the better."

The Colorado Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which can offer financial support to candidates, so far is backing only Gail Schwartz, a University of Colorado regent, who aims to dislodge incumbent Republican Lewis Entz in Senate District 5 in the San Luis Valley.

The DSCC still is pondering where to throw its support, says Fitz-Gerald, who sits on the committee's board.

Morse, 47, is twice divorced and has no children. He previously has worked as a paramedic, accountant and Colorado Springs police sergeant.

He grew up in Colorado Springs as a political independent and became a Democrat last year, after becoming angered when local Republicans vainly opposed Referendum C. The referendum, which passed in November, allows the state to retain Taxpayer's Bill of Rights funds for five years to pay for highway work, education and health care.

  • GOP senator seen as vulnerable in moderate district

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