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Turning on the Fawcett 

Seeking the impossible dream: unseating Hefley

click to enlarge Jay Fawcett at his 50th birthday party-slash-campaign - fund-raiser on Nov. 30 at Jack Quinns pub downtown. - 2005 COLLAN FITZPATRICK
  • 2005 Collan Fitzpatrick
  • Jay Fawcett at his 50th birthday party-slash-campaign fund-raiser on Nov. 30 at Jack Quinns pub downtown.

Jay Fawcett sits in Poor Richard's, sipping coffee and making calls on his cell phone. The night before, at his 50th birthday party, he glad-handed at Jack Quinn's pub.

This is what it's like to run a campaign for Congress.

As a Democrat in the Pikes Peak region, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 2 to 1, Fawcett says he'll have to raise a historic amount of money -- $800,000 -- to win.

"No, I'm not crazy," he says.

No Democrat ever has won the 5th Congressional District, where Republican Joel Hefley has been safely seated for nearly two decades -- too safely for Fawcett's liking.

"After 10 elections to office, he chairs no major committees, he has no major leadership role," Fawcett says. "I ask this: Where is he? What is he doing for you?"

A senior policy analyst for U.S. Northern Command and retired lieutenant colonel who fought in the first Gulf war, Fawcett enters a race rife with speculation that Hefley will retire next year. One local Republican, former El Paso County Sheriff John Wesley Anderson, has formed an exploratory committee to study the viability of running for the seat, including possibly challenging Hefley in a primary.

"We haven't backed off of the idea of a run against him," Anderson says.

Hefley is expected to announce in the coming weeks whether or not he will run, says spokeswoman Kim Sears.

War experience

Meanwhile Fawcett, the son of a Pennsylvania steel worker and a 1977 Air Force Academy graduate, already is in high gear. He's been calling friends to tell them about his campaign and knocking on doors to tell others about himself.

He draws on his experiences as an air liaison officer in the first Gulf war, and the current war in Iraq figures big in his campaign. Fawcett hasn't joined Democrats in demanding that President Bush withdraw troops from Iraq. But he criticizes Bush for failing to clearly identify objectives and goals there. He also objects to the Bush administration's use of National Guard troops outside U.S. borders.

"Some of them are going into combat, urban combat, for the second, third, even now, fourth, time," he says. "That's not what they signed up for."

Many soldiers, he says, are coming back from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder, or are coping with permanent injuries, like the loss of a limb, but aren't getting all the help they need from Veterans Affairs. He says he'd work to see at least $1.3 billion go to the VA. Fawcett also wants to preserve Social Security, and he backs a woman's right to choose.

It would be an unprecedented coup for him to win.

If all the district's Republicans voted strictly along party lines, Fawcett would need all of the roughly 87,000 Democrats, and 112,000 of its 126,000 unaffiliated voters, to vote for him.

He hopes for support from moderate Republicans. To reach them, Fawcett is emphasizing general themes he hopes will resonate with voters -- change vs. status quo and an independent voice vs. rubber-stamping for the president.

Fawcett, who is married with two grown children, says Colorado Springs has gotten a bad rap.

"The myth has been promulgated through the country that this is the bastion of evangelical conservatism and the right wing," Fawcett says. "It isn't."

So far, he's raised about $51,000, mostly in small donations from friends -- already a record amount for a party that in the past has relied on low-budget candidates like Curtis Imrie, an activist who campaigned with a donkey in 2000. On average, Democrats have spent just $4,650 to battle Hefley in each campaign since 1998, according to an Independent analysis of federal campaign-finance records.

Watching closely

Hefley, meanwhile, has spent an average of $117,000 to in the last four elections, and currently has $95,000 in hand.

Sears, his spokeswoman, notes that Democrats haven't given Hefley much of a fight over the years. However, considering the amount of money Fawcett's raised so far, they are watching closely.

"The congressman doesn't really enjoy raising money," Sears says. "But he will do what it takes."

Fawcett campaign manager Wanda James hopes to place pressure on Hefley that he never has faced in the past, including airing television, radio and newspaper advertisements to boost Fawcett's name recognition and educate voters.

"It's going to be fun to watch," James says. "Can [Hefley] really run a serious race?"

Fawcett also hopes to grab the notice of the national Democratic Party. The party is expected to funnel millions of dollars into perceived close races like that in Colorado's 4th Congressional District, where Democratic state legislator Angie Paccione is looking to unseat Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave. The 7th Congressional District, which Bob Beauprez is leaving to run for governor, also is expected to generate interest.

That kind of attention has eluded the Fawcett campaign to date.

Pat Waak, chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party, says national funding usually kicks in once a candidate has raised roughly $250,000 -- and when a candidate has demonstrated he or she might win.

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