It's Tuesday afternoon, exactly two weeks from the Aug. 10 primaries, and Colorado's two Democratic hopefuls for the U.S. Senate are busy on their respective campaign trails.
El Paso County educator and former U.S. diplomat and Army Ranger Mike Miles heads from one media interview to the next -- already his seventh of the day -- as he continues to canvass the state by car, meeting with supporters and skeptics at stops along the way.
On the opposite side of the country, state Attorney General Ken Salazar steps off an airplane into muggy Massachusetts, where he'll spend the next several days representing his state as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention and meeting with some of the party's most influential leaders. Some of those leaders will all but anoint him Colorado's next senator, with nary a mention of Miles.
For Miles, the underdog role is hardly new. After three years on the campaign trail, Miles has become accustomed to the pitfalls of being a candidate without the multi-million dollar fund-raising support and name recognition of a popular state official such as Salazar.
"It's hard overcoming that, and I knew it would be," Miles said last week in an interview with the Steamboat Today. "A paradigm takes time to turn around."
But Miles scored the first victory in the race when he won top line on the primary ballot at the state Democratic convention in May.
Miles said the reason so many people have jumped to his side is simple.
"We have the solutions to key problems, and those solutions make sense," he said. "As soon as people hear me and hear the message, they believe I have the right solutions and can articulate them. Most people just want their problems solved."
Salazar, 49, a fifth-generation Coloradan and two-term attorney general, brushes off Miles' success.
"He's been campaigning for three years," Salazar said last week. "I feel good about where we are right now."
With nearly $3 million raised for his campaign and the seemingly full support of the Democratic Party, it's hard to blame Salazar for feeling good. It's also hard to blame Miles for feeling frustrated.
Miles, a 47-year-old father of three, expected obstacles in his bid for the U.S. Senate, just not from within his own party. Miles said the Democratic Party has been a hurdle, rather than a resource, to political success.
His name is barely mentioned on the Web site of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which profiles Salazar with a multi-paragraph biography and offers links to numerous press releases and news stories about the attorney general.
At last week's Boston convention, several high-ranking party leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. John Corzine, director of the DSCC, touted Salazar while ignoring Miles. The move angered some of Colorado's 63 delegates to the convention.
Salazar, to many Democrats and political observers, represents the party's best chance to win in a typically Republican state. Salazar was re-elected to a second term as attorney general in November 2001, when he defeated GOP candidate Marti Allbright in 57 of the state's 64 counties, including Routt County.
"That vote tally means I was able to get significant support from independent and Republican voters," Salazar said. "I think my record is one that demonstrates I'm a problem solver."
Salazar said his ability to transcend partisan bickering is one reason he'll be a valuable member of the U.S. Senate.
"That's part of the problem in Washington," he said. "We have political gridlock."
During his tenure as attorney general, Salazar led the effort to defeat Referendum A, a 2003 ballot initiative criticized by many as a blank check for water projects. The initiative was defeated in all 64 Colorado counties. He also defeated a well-publicized Republican effort to redraw congressional district boundaries.
By contrast, Miles has never held elected office, but he brings considerable and relevant experience to the race. After serving in the Army as a Ranger and infantry company commander, Miles joined the U.S. State Department, where he analyzed intelligence information for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. He became a diplomat in 1990, working in Poland and Russia.
Miles moved into education upon his return to the United States. He taught high school for four years, was a middle school principal for four years, and in 2003 became assistant superintendent in the Fountain-Fort Carson School District.
He's built a strong contingent of supporters -- "Team Blue" as he refers to the organization -- throughout the state. His campaign slogan, "Be the Change," is from Mahatma Gandhi's famous call, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
"We've inspired lots of Democrats and other people to get engaged in this campaign and really believe the core message," Miles said. "We mean it. It's not about the candidate, it's about you and everyone else getting involved to make a difference."
Salazar, who was raised on a farm in the San Luis Valley, has worked in lead roles of state government for more than a decade. The attorney left a private Denver firm in 1986, when he became chief legal counsel for former Gov. Roy Romer. Salazar was then appointed executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, a position he held from 1990 to 1994. He returned to private legal practice for four years before his election as attorney general in 1998.
On the issues
Though Miles and Salazar are Democrats, voters looking for differences between the two candidates needn't worry. On the campaign trail and in debates they've offered differing stances on a number of issues, including education and health care.
Salazar says the Bush administration's sweeping No Child Left Behind education legislation needs amending and proper funding. He calls for a change to the legislation's measurement requirements and worries it has created too much of an emphasis on teaching to tests.
"As it stands now," Salazar said, "(No Child Left Behind) is an empty promise to America's children."
Salazar also would like a greater federal investment in preschool and after-school programs.
Miles says pumping any more money into No Child Left behind is putting funds into bad legislation. NCLB takes valuable resources away from the school districts that need them the most, Miles said.
Both candidates think the federal government should do more to help states retain and recruit quality teachers. Miles proposes a tax credit for teachers who work in a district for five years and agree to remain for at least three additional years.
Miles doesn't support vouchers, while Salazar supported a pilot program to allow Denver parents to use vouchers.
With an estimated 43 million Americans, including 720,000 Coloradans, living without health insurance, Miles advocates a universal, single-payer health care system similar to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The plan would be available to all Americans at a rate of about $200 a month for the average family of four. Coverage could be free, except for co-pays, to families that fall in certain socioeconomic brackets, Miles said. He also supports allowing the importation of pharmaceutical drugs from Canada.
Salazar, like Miles, considers the health care issue a "crisis" for the country, but he rejects Miles' call for a single-payer system.
Salazar supports creating tax incentives for small businesses to provide their employees with health coverage, revising COBRA to help cover employees in between jobs, and funding the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, to provide coverage to all Americans younger than 18.
Miles said he has always opposed the war in Iraq, particularly because it hasn't and won't make America safer and because the Bush administration didn't present a strong enough case for pre-emptive use of military force. The faulty intelligence that helped lead the country into war politicized, he said.
But Miles thinks American troops should remain in the country until the new Iraqi government is stable and the international community is allowed to play a greater role. The Iraqi people need complete control over their own resources and the decisions that will affect the future of the country, Miles said.
"They can drive their own trucks and build their own schools," he said. "Why won't we let them do that?"
Salazar supports the troops serving in Iraq but thinks they need to be better armed. The U.S. effort in Iraq needs to be internationalized, Salazar said, and our "broken" relationships with other foreign powers must be repaired.
The Bush administration used faulty intelligence, failed to develop the international coalition needed to succeed in Iraq and underestimated the costs and difficulties of the war, Salazar said.
Salazar is "appalled" that the current administration isn't aggressively moving forward to implement some of the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.
"There is a reality here about the war on terror that I think we need to face," Salazar said. "Global terrorism is a real threat, and America today is not safe."
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