By JENNIFER TALHELM
The Associated Press
Friday, December 15, 2006; 7:40 PM
WASHINGTON -- Mile-high hopes are dimming that Denver will secure the 2008 Democratic convention.
Democrats posted against-the-odds victories in several statewide elections last month in the West, making Denver an attractive choice for a party looking to expand on recent gains in the Republican-leaning region. But even once-optimistic Colorado boosters are lowering their odds to 50-50 that Denver will beat out New York City for the convention.
Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar said this week that in private conversations Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean had expressed legitimate concerns about whether Denver can raise the necessary $55 million and put on a seamless convention.
Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Pat Waak said Friday that whether Democrats will pick Denver "comes down to the practicality of (Denver) being able to do this."
"There probably is some sentimental favoritism toward Denver because the West is the new Democratic ground, and Colorado did so well in the last election," Waak said. "But everything I've heard is that this costs a lot of money to do and obviously New York is a much bigger city with a much bigger corporate base to raise money from."
Dean and the DNC have been mum about whether they are leaning toward Denver or New York. A decision is expected before the end of the year.
"We are still in negotiations with both cities and considering both bids equally," DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney said Friday.
Democrats are trying to avoid last-minute problems with fundraising and logistics that have plagued past conventions _ Denver's biggest hurdle.
Western Democratic governors, including Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, have pledged to help with fundraising, but convention organizers declined to say how much money they have raised.
"You have to understand we're competing against a city that has 8 million people," said Elbra Wedgeworth, leader for Denver's host committee. The city's population is about 557,000.
"We've raised a significant amount of money for Denver, and we feel we still have a competitive bid," Wedgeworth said.
It's not money alone that raises questions about Denver's ability to put on the convention. Salazar said Dean also questioned him about whether Denver can handle the 35,000 convention-goers. Denver needs to prove it has about 19,000 hotel rooms, union support and adequate security _ hurdles that many believe New York can more easily clear.
Salazar, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Colorado Gov.-elect Bill Ritter talked again with Dean on Friday. Salazar spokesman Cody Wertz said the three "came away feeling hopeful" that they can alleviate Dean's concerns about Denver.
The West has a political story Democrats are eager to tell _ something solidly Democratic New York can't supply.
Democrats have made steady progress in the region, picking up governorships from Montana to Arizona in recent years and Colorado last month. Salazar's win in 2004 was followed by Democrat Jon Tester's Senate win in Montana this year. The party also has gained House seats and made significant inroads in state legislatures.
Many Democrats argue that if the party pays more attention to the West, the region will help elect a Democratic president.
"We always have felt that the pathway to the presidency is through the West," Wedgeworth said. "We think it's our turn and our time."