In Colorado, health-care debate reverberates in congressional race

The GOP taunted Rep. Betsy Markey for her
The GOP taunted Rep. Betsy Markey for her "yes" vote. (Matthew Staver/bloomberg News)
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By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 5, 2010

FORT COLLINS, COLO. -- Rep. Betsy Markey, a first-term Democrat in a Republican district, was one of just eight House members who switched their votes from "no" to "yes" when President Obama's health-care bill finally passed Congress. Her vote left the endangered incumbent in an even more precarious position.

In the days since, Markey has been both praised and vilified. The National Republican Congressional Committee taunted her with an e-mail release proclaiming, "Bye Bye, Betsy." She made former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's list of targeted Democrats. But they were only ratifying the obvious. In November, the race in Colorado's 4th District will be crucial to Republican hopes to take over the House.

What is clear on the ground here is that passage of the health-care law has not stilled the debate. The district is as divided as ever, with Markey and her leading rival jockeying to shape perceptions of how the vote is playing with talk of money raised, e-mails received and activists engaged.

State Rep. Cory Gardner, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, said her vote, coming after her support of climate-change legislation and the economic stimulus, marked "the tipping point" that showed voters that "Congresswoman Markey is out of step."

After the health-care bill passed, a voter from outside the district sent the Republican's campaign a contribution with a note: "Please thank Betsy Markey for this check." When the Denver Post wrote about it, another voter sent a copy of the article along with a donation to Gardner's campaign with a note: "Again, you can thank Betsy Markey's health-care vote for this check."

But Markey, 53, said she does not think the vote puts her in any greater jeopardy and said the issue could fade by November. In the meantime, she said, calls and e-mails to her office have been encouraging. "It's actually been more positive than I expected," she said.

Her office shared more than two dozen of those e-mails as evidence.

"Voting yes as a first term representative from a predominantly Republican area was a gutsy, gutsy move," wrote Patty Mayer, a physician and political independent from Greeley. "I applaud your bravery and your courage in making the right choice."

Michelle Boyce, an active Democrat from Fort Collins, wrote: "I would like to thank you for changing your vote and supporting the health care bill. I know you are getting lots of criticism at the moment, but please stand your ground and continue to support this important legislation!"

Markey and the Republicans also are dueling over money as first-quarter fundraising reports come out, with Markey's campaign saying it is happy to make the money race a proxy for how health care is playing.

Markey raised $505,000 in the first quarter of the year, according to figures released by her staff Sunday. Of that, about $355,000 came into the campaign after Markey's March 17 announcement that she would vote for the health-care bill.

Gardner's advisers said they were not prepared to release their entire first-quarter numbers yet and predicted that the incumbent would raise more money in the quarter. Political insiders will be looking closely at the gap between the two.

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