Original URL:  http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E64%257E959667,00.html

Negative ads irritate some
U.S. Senate fight could hurt turnout
By Chris Frates
Denver Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 31, 2002

This is the last in a series exploring what's on metro-area voters' minds as the election approaches.

ADAMS COUNTY - From the dusty floors of a Brighton feed shop to the sanitized shelves of a Target store in Thornton, voters in this north metro county say they are disillusioned by the negative campaigning of Colorado's
politicians, especially in the U.S. Senate race.

In fact, some, tired of campaigns long on attacks and short on issues, have tuned out the races and decided not to vote.

"None of these guys are talking about anything positive. They're spending their money telling people what the other guy's not doing," Steve Tackett, a salesman at Brighton Feed & Saddlery, said before helping a customer shopping for a horse blanket. "When I grew up, my grandpa told me that when you point a finger, there are three pointing back."

The feeling that candidates are deflecting questions about their leadership abilities by emphasizing the mistakes of their opponents has left Tackett and other residents throughout the county unsure who they will vote for or even how they will decide.

The disgust, and in some cases downright apathy, generated by the campaigns of Republican U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard and his Democratic opponent, Tom Strickland, could suppress voter turnout, observers say.

Candidates run negative ads to reduce the likability of their opponents, which they hope will make them look better. While results have proven that mudslinging works, it can have a high cost: the alienation of less-engaged voters.

In interviews with county residents, it was most often undecided voters who were tired of the trash talking.

"If they were more positive in their actions ... I'd probably be more interested," Michelle Espindola said as she and her husband, Joe, shopped for costumes to wear to a Halloween party.

Standing behind a cart at the Thornton Super Target, Michelle Espindola said she doesn't believe that Strickland or Allard would represent all her views.

Besides, she said, she doesn't want to vote for someone who comes off less like a person and more like a slick advertising presentation.

"They got somebody writing that stuff," said Joe Espindola, 35. "Why can't they say it from their own hearts?"

He said he will vote, but only for one candidate - Gov. Bill Owens. He approves of the job Owens has done during his first term, and he likes that the governor has run a positive race, he said.

Michelle Espindola, 30, said she doesn't plan on voting Tuesday.

Turning off Adams County voters is not a good idea, political observers say. This rapidly growing and diverse county is a key election player. Many observers believe that it, along with Jefferson County, will decide the winner in the close Senate race.

With a population of 363,857, Adams is home to a sizable chunk of the region's 2.4 million people, according to the 2000 census. Hispanics make up about 28 percent of county residents, and non-Hispanic whites account for 63 percent.

The county's 198,903 registered voters are split into nearly equal thirds, with Democrats and unaffiliated voters each representing 35 percent and Republicans claiming about 29 percent.

Adams County voters tend to be fiscally conservative and socially moderate, said Floyd Ciruli, an independent political consultant. In competitive races,  the county usually goes Democratic.

A testament to Adams' Democratic importance: Strickland has headquartered his campaign here.

But conservatives aren't frozen out - two of the three county commissioners are Republican.

"They can be unpredictable," Adams County Republican chairman Nathan Hatcher said of local voters. "The county's got way more Democrats than Republicans, and we've controlled the commission ... for six years."

Residents also wanted to talk about Amendment 31, which would prevent schools from teaching almost all non-English-speaking students in their native languages.

James Blevins, one of seven adults chaperoning a birthday party at a Commerce City haunted house, waited in line and talked about Amendment 31 and the election.

As he helped keep an eye on the 21 home-schooled children on a recent Saturday night, Blevins, 36, of Westminster, said non-English-speaking children have to know the language in order to survive in America.

"The only reason they have bilingual - it's a scam. They have two teachers in a classroom so they have to join the union, and that expands the Democratic base," said Blevins, a conservative Republican. "It keeps non-English kids ignorant of mainstream America."

Back at Brighton Feed & Saddlery, cashier Angie Blunt, 19, said she plans to vote in this, her first, election. She said she will vote against bilingual education.

"In high school, they started doing the announcements in Spanish and English, and it took so much time," said Blunt, adding that entire classes taught in two languages would take time away from English-speaking children.

After helping the woman looking for a horse blanket, Tackett, the salesman, continued jawing about the election.

Surrounded by hundreds of saddles, the contemporary cowboy - complete with hat, Wranglers and a blue-and-white cowboy-printed neck scarf to keep the cold out - said he doesn't know which horse to bet on Tuesday.

Shrugging his shoulders, letting his open palms hang a moment in the leathery air, he said:

"I don't know what they're going to do. ... None of them have the (guts) to get up and say. 'This is what I stand for."'

After months of campaigning and millions spent trashing their opponents, it seems candidates forgot to answer the one question Adams County residents appear to care most about.

As Tackett put it:

"What are you going to do to make Colorado a better place to live in?"

The best answer just might win the race - if it's not too late.

Chris Frates can be reached at 303-659-8402 or cfrates@denverpost.com .


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