White, Brenner discuss 'Obama factor'; fundraising remains strong

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Ken Brenner

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Al White

— Fueled by strong financial support from Steamboat Springs residents and many out-of-district donations, state Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, continues to outmatch Democratic opponent Ken Brenner's fundraising in the race for Senate District 8.

Despite that advantage, White said he is concerned about an "Obama factor" that both candidates said could play a substantial - if not decisive - role in the contest.

In the current election cycle through Oct. 8, White raised about $132,263, compared with Brenner's $51,064, according to the Colorado Secretary of State's campaign finance database.

The next filing deadline for the candidates is Tuesday.

"I'm happy with where we're at in fundraising," said Brenner, who consistently has downplayed the importance of money. "I think we're going to win because we're on the right side of the key issues."

Brenner, a former Steamboat Springs City Council president, said he expects to win Routt County. From Sept. 11 to Oct. 8, White received 56 individual donations from Steamboat Springs residents compared with Brenner's 16. White's Steamboat donations come from people including developers such as Jim Cook, Chris Paoli and Mark Matthews, of The Atira Group, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. executives Jim Schneider and Rob Perlman, Yampa Valley Bank President and CEO John Kerst, Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Karl Gills and Holiday Inn owner Scott Marr.

White said he expects to win Routt County by 5 to 10 percentage points, but, overall, he doesn't expect the same overwhelming success he has enjoyed in previous elections.

White is term-limited in the state House of Representatives. In 2006, he won his fourth consecutive term by beating Tabernash Democrat Andy Gold, 15,631 votes to 8,344 votes. Libertarian Mike Kien garnered 836 votes.

"I think I'm going to win, but I don't think I'll win large," said White, who noted the "squeaker" win of state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, against Democrat John Fetcher in the 2004 Senate District 8 election. Taylor won with a count of 28,521 votes to 26,896 votes. "The Democrats have always felt this was a winnable seat for them. Ken has run hard, and I give him credit for running a hard race."

White or Brenner will replace term-limited Taylor in the state Senate seat representing Northwest Colorado.

From Sept. 11 to Oct. 8, nearly all of Brenner's donations have come from within the district, particularly population centers of Eagle and Garfield counties. Brenner said White's large number of donations from the Denver area and even out of state should concern voters. Donations include $1,400 from groups associated with the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, which describes itself as "the nation's leading trade association for developers, owners, investors and other professionals in industrial, office and mixed-use commercial real estate," and $400 from South Dakota-based energy company Black Hills Corp. White said his eight years in office have led to broad-based support.

"When you've got an eight-year voting record, you've got all sort of people who think you did a good job and want to see you come back," said White, who noted that Brenner's fundraising totals include two $2,000 donations and a $10,000 loan to his campaign from himself.

"Why aren't there more people giving him any money?" White said. "Does anybody have any faith in him?"

White noted his support from educators, health care professionals and environmentalists.

"I would like someone to point out a group that's not a special interest group," White said. "Every piece of legislation is carried by somebody for some special interest. It tends to be a pejorative, but the truth is everything is a special interest."

'Obama factor'

While Brenner has noted that every mayor in Garfield County endorses him, White points to his endorsements from newspapers such as The Denver Post, Vail Daily and The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction.

Brenner also said he thinks Northwest Colorado leans to the political left and is ready to elect a Democrat to the state Senate.

"We know Democrats have done well in the races here in Senate District 8," Brenner said.

There is evidence of a shift. Not including White's victory, the 2006 election saw widespread victories for Democrats across the county, state and nation. And since the Aug. 12 primary election, the number of Democratic registered voters has surpassed Republican voters in Routt County. Brenner said a high level of energy surrounding the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama doesn't hurt.

"There's the Obama factor," Brenner said. "There's a lot of enthusiasm. We've never seen anything like it. : What it does is it makes people vote. It gets them to the polls. That's always the challenge with Democrats."

While White is genuinely concerned about voters mobilized by Obama who may go on to vote a straight Democratic ticket, he also said there were no "presidential coattails" for Colorado Republicans when George W. Bush won the state and the nation in 2000 and 2004.

"It's a concern," White said. "It's a little hard to figure, but I'm not discounting it. It definitely could cost me the race."

But the Obama factor, if it indeed exists, could be dwindling. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll shows the presidential race narrowing, with Obama at 44 percent and Sen. John McCain at 43 percent. Three weeks ago, the same poll showed Obama with a seven-point lead, the AP reported.

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