About 500 Democrats showed up Saturday night at the Antlers Hilton for the local party's third annual Will Rogers gala. I was there taking in the scene and hoping to score a quick interview with the evening's featured guest, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.
It hadn't been a good week for Udall. Independent polls suggested he was tied with any random Republican fruitcake that the tea party might select to oppose him. That wouldn't please any incumbent, but the really bad news came on Friday, when U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner announced his candidacy.
At 40, Gardner is young, smart, telegenic and less stridently conservative than the cranky old (and often rich) guys who have so dismally represented the GOPsters of late. Think Tom Tancredo, "Bothways Bob" Beauprez and Bruce Benson. Gardner hails from Yuma, a dying little town on the northeast plains, and lives in the house his great-grandfather built in 1886.
It was a classic backroom deal. Cranky old Ken Buck agreed to exit the Senate race and run for Gardner's seat in the House. State Sen. Amy Stephens also dropped out, throwing what little support she had to Gardner.
GOP polling had likely shown that the primary race was Gardner's to lose, encouraging him to abandon a safe seat to run against an incumbent. Rumor hath it that the switcheroo was orchestrated by master manipulator Karl Rove, who had been spotted the week before at a private fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman.
The rollout was smooth. For one thing, The Denver Post obediently ran op-ed columns praising the deal by George Will and Colorado's own mini-Rove, Dick Wadhams.
Not everybody joined the Amen Chorus, though. Our own state Sen. Owen Hill refused to listen to his betters, staying in the race.
Good on you, Owen! If we're going to have a Republican in the Senate, why not one from the city that has uncomplainingly provided massive Republican majorities in every statewide election forever? We supply the votes, but some dirt farmer from Yuma waltzes off to D.C.?
But regardless of any March polling, Udall remains the guy to beat. Gardner may have a plan, but as Democratic strategist Chris Lehane told the New York Times recently, "Everyone has a game plan until you punch them in the mouth. So let's punch them in the mouth."
What will Udall do? He's not saying — at least, not to local media.
Natural politicians such as Bill Clinton or former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer know how to work a room, schmooze the media and even identify potential donors. Udall, like his colleague Sen. Michael Bennet, seems withdrawn and aloof by comparison, cocooned by protective staff.
I slipped through the first layer of security, but was foiled by a nice head fake from a senior staff member who maneuvered Udall away from any unscripted encounter with a media weasel. So I slunk away and watched the event unfold ... and unfold ... and unfold. The Pledge, an a cappella rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," VIP recognition (40 or more!), sponsor acknowledgment, political speeches and on and on through the great American night.
The evening's leitmotif: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers (and sisters, of course)." Democrats may be ignored, marginalized and relatively powerless in Colorado Springs, but Saturday night was St. Crispin's Day for the Donksters. The happy warriors of the left rose to cheer their fallen hero, former state Sen. John Morse, and saluted the man anointed to regain Morse's seat, Michael Merrifield. One local leader roused the faithful by calling Colorado Springs the "belly of the beast" for Democrats.
Now, Cuba's national hero, José Martí, called New York City the "belly of the beast" in the 19th century. Ché Guevara said that progressive Americans live "in the belly of the beast." Against such a backdrop, Saturday's claim seemed a little far-fetched, but maybe right for Colorado Springs. After all, the phrase has a biblical origin:
"Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days, and three nights."
The great Republican fish is hungry, and it's ready to swallow up brave Democrats running for office. County Commissioner Peggy Littleton and state Sen. Bernie Herpin lurk in the deep water, waiting for Jariah Walker and Merrifield, respectively. Does doom await?
Who knows? But come on in, boys and girls — the water's fine!