Governor's race looks like tossup after missteps by GOP candidate

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— First came word that the running mate picked by GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez had compared same-sex marriage to bestiality. Then Beauprez apologized for overstating the abortion rate among blacks.

Since late August, it has been one problem after another for Beauprez, a congressman from the Denver suburbs who was once considered the front-runner in the race to succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Owens.

Instead, he is in a dogfight with Democrat Bill Ritter, a former Denver district attorney who has tried to shed his big-city image by visiting every one of Colorado's 64 counties.

Some Republicans are getting jittery about the race, and some worry that the problems dogging Beauprez are indications of a deeper rift in the Republican Party stemming from a battle last year over tax breaks.

Colorado Democrats have not controlled the Legislature and the governor's office at the same time since 1962, but they are optimistic heading into November.

The latest figures show Beauprez trailing Ritter in fundraising and in the polls. For the period ending Sept. 13, Ritter reported raising $197,000 to Beauprez's $99,000.

"I think Republicans are concerned, obviously. Yes, the campaign has made missteps, but those missteps don't have to be terminal. It's not over yet. The fat lady hasn't sung," said GOP political analyst Katy Atkinson of Denver.

Beauprez has been dogged for months about his opposition to Referendum C, a 2005 ballot measure in which voters agreed to give up $5 billion in tax refunds over the next five years to shore up the state budget. The plan was backed by Owens and many businesses, a key GOP constituency.

Beauprez said he has met with Republicans who backed the plan to air their differences.

"The whole issue of that dustup is behind us," Beauprez said. Still, he admitted his campaign has had its problems.

Beauprez's running mate, Janet Rowland, quickly apologized after the public learned of her comments during a March broadcast of a public television program. Rowland said homosexuality is an alternative lifestyle, then added: "For some people, the alternative lifestyle is bestiality. Do we allow a man to marry a sheep?"

Ritter's campaign called the remarks insensitive and crude.

Then Beauprez offered his own apology for saying during a radio interview that 70 percent of pregnancies among blacks end in abortion. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, which compiles abortion data, said a 2002 report suggests 43 percent of conceptions among black women ended in abortion, compared with 18 percent for whites.

"I think there are little bumps in the road people go through, but Ritter had some, too," Beauprez told The Associated Press. "He declared himself pro-life, then said he'd make exceptions for anomalies. I asked if that included Down syndrome and he said yes."

Ritter's stance on abortion has worried fellow Democrats. He said he personally opposes abortion but insists he will support abortion rights as long as Roe v. Wade is the law.

For his part, Beauprez has attacked Ritter for cutting plea bargains with illegal immigrants in drug cases and with drunk drivers when he was DA.

Ritter said he expects the Beauprez camp to harp on specific cases, but is convinced "there are no Willie Horton cases out there," a reference to the ad about a convicted murderer who raped a woman while on furlough from a Massachusetts prison. The ad helped wreck Democrat Michael Dukakis' presidential hopes in 1988.

Independent pollster Floyd Ciruli of Denver said Beauprez has two big problems: a Republican Party divided nationally over the Iraq war and the Bush administration, and a state party that is still split over Referendum C.

"Probably the most important one is that he inherited a very divided party in a poor year for Republicans," Ciruli said. "I don't know that it's over, but it's getting very, very close."

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