There are two campaigns for governor going on in Colorado these days, and Republican candidate Ted Strickland is doing just fine in one of them.
In a year when Democratic candidates generate little enthusism in Colorado, state Sen. Strickland is leading incumbent Democratic Gov. Richard Lamm in the public opinion polls. Strickland's candidacy has been aided by favorable issues, a well-organized campaign and a solid core of support among evangelical activists throughout the state.
But in the other race, which Republicans increasingly refer to as "Strickland vs. Strickland," the challenger is not doing well at all. In the course of the past week Strickland has made himself an issue by questioning the location of a long-sought solar research institute in Colorado and by raising questions about whether he would fight to prevent the closing of Lowry Air Force Base near Denver.
For good measure, Strickland denied once introducing a bill that would have banned a rodeo roping contests in Colorado. Legislative records showed that he did, in fact, introduce it.
These various bloopers, most of which have been well-covered in the Denver press, have blunted Strickland's effort to portray Lamm as "inept and lacking leadership" by making Strickland's own competence an issue. One outside reporter said the Strickland race recalled the George Romney presidential campaign and the joke that reporters' typewriters were equipped with a key which said. "What I really meant to say was . . ."
But despite Strickland's mistakes, there is every reason to believe Lamm when he says that his reelection campaign is an "uphill fight."
While there may not be a Republican tide running in Colorado, there is at least a strong current of disapproval of the Democrats. The state's two-year antipathy toward President Carter was revived recently by his veto of the public works bill, which contained three important Colorado water projects that were on the president's original "hit list." And Lamm, an articulate 43-year-old, one-term governor, still is trying to overcome the handicap of an abrasive personality which has left many verbal scars.
This week for instance the 14.000 member Colorado Association of Public Employes broke with tradition and endorsed Strickland. The action was a rebuke to Lamm for ringing in out-of-state employes to run departments and for describing Colorado bureaucrats as "those same, sleepy, old somnambulent people."
The problem for Democrats goes beyond personality. Four years ago the environmental movement was at its crest here and advocates of development were in retreat. Lamm, who had led the successful fight to keep the winter Olympics out of Colorado, was the darling of the environmentalists and the leader of a Democratic resurgence in this political swing state.
While most politicians, including Lamm and Stickland still describe themselves as environmentalists, "development" and "growth" are no longer dirty words in Colorado.
Lamm has swung with the pendulum. One of his campaign boasts is that Colorado unemployment is now at a record low of 4.7 percent. Lamm also has emerged as the champion of water projects he once opposed, criticizing the Carter administration for being "a plague of locusts" on the West.
These maeuvers, which Lamm sees as part of a delicate balancing act, have won him new-found support in the business community while costing him some of the ardent following he once had among liberals and environmentalists.
"The liberals will vote for Lamm, but there's no real emotional feeling for our candidate," says a veteran Democratic politician who believes Lamm's best hope for victory lies in Strickland's mistakes. "The big issues now are reducing spending and cutting taxes, and these are issues which charge up the Republican troops. Many of our people are just going through the motions."
This absence of enthusiasm is reflected in sparse turnout for debates between the candidates and in scant television coverage. Most of the predictions in Colorado are for a low voter turnout which is certain to benefit the Republicans.
Well aware that Democratic disaffection may be the key to the election, Lamm campaign manager Jim Monaghan is devoting heavy resources to a voter turnout champaign.
"If Strickland continues to shoot himself in the foot, I might win even with a low turnout," says Lamm. "But I'd feel a lot more comfortable with a big one."
The voter turnout effort is easier on the other side.
"Ted has a great deal of support that is unaffected by the press," says Strickland campaign manager Natalie Meyer, who ran Ronald Reagan's successful primary campaign here in 1976.
Some of that support is concentrated in Baptist churches, where Strickland used to preach lay sermons. It is not limited to his own church, however. Strickland frequently has made inspirational speeches to service clubs, fraternal groups, and religious organizations, and he has a following that extends beyond the usual boundaries of politics.
Unlike some evangelical-minded candidates. strickland has been fairly careful to avoid mixing religion and politics. He stopped giving sermons, for instance, saying they could be misunderstood during the campaign. In a speech to a church-sponsored forum Strickland said that politicians must "keep our personal beliefs, our individual denominations, apart and separate from our political life."
The 46-year-old state legislator has however, demonstrated no such care in his dealings with the press.
Strickland has a long history of feuding with Denver newspapers, dating back to a time several years ago when he tried to retailiate against an unfavorable article in the Rocky Mountain News by imposing a tax on newsprint.
There also is a widespread belief among Republicans that Strickland, used to the relative anonymity of the legislature, was unprepared for a statewide campaign in which his statements would be carefully scrutinized.
The Lamm campaign has taken maximum advantage of Strickland's missteps. After the GOP candidate said it would be "hard to quarrel" with the closing of Lowry Air Force Base if the government doesn't find it cost-effective, the Lamm campaign organized a press conference of retired Air Force colonels on the state capitol steps. They made it appear that Strickland wanted to shut down every military installation in Colorado, including the Air Force Academy.
As Strickland sees it, his problems arise because he is philosophically consistent and says what is on his mind while his opponent is a "hypocrite" who says what is politically expedient.
Strickland says that Lamm, an opponent of local planning control as governor, now tells audiences he favors local control Strickland also criticizes Lamm for campaigning as an opponent of air pollution even though he vetoed a Republican-sponsored bill that would have imposed tough auto emission standards.
But these potentially effective political issues have been all but lost in the controversy about Strickland's own misstatements. The result has been to encourage Democrats who until a week ago thought they were facing probable defeat.
"This is a tough campaign against a tough opponent in a tough state in a very tough year" says Lamm in an accurate analysis of his own chances.
But it is a far easier campaign for the Democratic uncumbent than it was before Ted Strickland became his own most difficult opponent.