Steamboat Springs With the primary election still five months away, the race to replace outgoing Routt County Sheriff John Warner is getting heated.
During a Routt County Republican luncheon in February, GOP sheriff candidates Dwight Murphy and Ray Birch had a confrontation about Web sites, and both are telling a different story about what happened.
Birch and other party members say Murphy bought several Web site domain names that incorporate the words "ray," "birch," "for," and "sheriff." Birch said he confronted Murphy about it, and Murphy replied by telling them he would sell the domain names back to Birch if we wanted one of them for his campaign Web site.
On Tuesday, Murphy vehemently denied the claims, saying he did not purchase any Web site domains containing Birch's name. He also denied offering to sell the domain names to Birch.
Birch says that couldn't be further from the truth.
Birch said he and his wife, Marlene, began putting together his campaign Web site in January. But they quickly found that domain names such as www.raybirchforsheriff.com and www.raybirch.com weren't available because they already were owned by someone else. Furthermore, Birch said that when typing in those domain names, his Web browser automatically redirected him to Murphy's Web site.
"We ran 12 different (name) combinations, and all of our (Web site address) combos diverted to (Murphy's) Web site. That was the first time I went 'Holy Cow.' I was so surprised," Birch said.
Birch said he didn't ask Murphy about it, instead finding a way around the problem by registering the "really long" domain name www.officialraybirchforsheriff.com.
As the weeks passed, Birch said he "chewed on the issue" and decided to confront Murphy about it.
At the February Routt County Republicans meeting, Birch said Murphy told them they were in the "first quarter of a football game." Birch also said Murphy responded to Birch's Web site complaint by saying, "Why, do you want to buy them?"
Birch said he told Murphy he couldn't afford to buy the domains from him.
"My initial thought was 'How are people going to know what I'm all about if I can't get a Web site?' I was also upset and a little hurt and disappointed that someone in my own party, and a cop, would do that," he said.
Murphy said Tuesday that he has heard of people and large corporations buying Web site domains and then reselling them to competitors for a profit. But he insisted he has not done that.
"I'm aware of that business, but not from me," Murphy said.
Routt County Republican chairwoman Jennifer Schubert-Akin said Wednesday she was reluctant to comment about the allegations without talking to Murphy first, but that she will investigate the claims.
Birch said he isn't letting the Web site controversy interfere with his campaign or the way he intends to campaign in the future.
"It may not be illegal, but it's certainly unethical in my opinion. This is grassroots politics," Birch said.
Democratic sheriff candidate Gary Wall said he has heard the rumors of the Republican Web site wars, but he did not believe them.
"That's about as low-life as anyone can go in local politics," Wall said. "Whether it is legal or not, you just don't do that in local politics."
The primary election is Aug. 8. The winner of the Republican primary automatically will be placed on the November ballot.