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Not entirely as it seems

City Sage



57-43. 57-43. That's what partisan elections look like in Colorado Springs, when Republican hacks face Democratic sacrificial lambs. That's what happens when the GOP machine grinds up those sacrificial lambs. That's what happens when money meets idealism, when simple registration arithmetic overwhelms liberal dreams and progressive schemes.

This mayoral race was supposed to be different.

Steve Bach would inevitably play the role of novice politician, fluffing his lines, wandering off-message, fighting with his handlers, and running an undisciplined campaign. But Richard Skorman, the hardened veteran of two successful city-wide runs for Council, would take on a Bob Isaac persona. Voters would have no choice but to see him as he is — a tough, practical visionary who could translate dreams into reality, bring quarrelsome factions together, and bring a businessman's knowledge of the world to City Hall.

With $500,000 raised from 2,000 contributors, and as many deeply committed volunteers supporting a candidate with a flawless résumé and a generation of good works, how could it end so dismally? Is it really as simple as saying that if even Ronald Reagan were to rise from the dead and run for mayor here on a moderate platform, he'd lose? That, as Lionel Rivera showed us by beating out four Council incumbents in 2003, conservative always trumps liberal in a city-wide race?

In short, no. The real story today is that neither candidate played to character. If Skorman's campaign hadn't stumbled, or if Bach's campaign hadn't been so remorselessly efficient, the result might have been different.

Political campaigns are often messy, ad hoc affairs, with interfering candidates who want to change strategy midstream and are caught flatfooted when unfriendly reporters bring up transgressions of their misspent youth (or misspent middle age, for that matter!). Think Bruce Benson and his multiple DUIs, Scott McInnis and his plagiarism, or Newt Gingrich's entire career.

Not Bach. From the gangly, awkward stiff announcing his campaign months ago, he metamorphosed into today's articulate, poised and skilled politician. When allegations of past spousal abuse surfaced in the media, Bach and his campaign countered them. Such allegations would have doomed most campaigns, but Bach's team made sure they never got much traction.

Skorman's campaign mistakes were many, beginning with "the suit." In an apparent attempt to give the genially informal Richard a mayoral look, his handlers stuffed him into an ill-fitting black suit, with all three front buttons tightly secured. It made him look like a mortician, not a mayor.

Then there was the bizarre anti-developer campaign theme, as Skorman attempted to blame our woes upon wicked, reckless developers. That infuriated much of the business community, and sent the message that Skorman was anti-growth, even anti-prosperity.

Skorman also emphasized his longtime support for the gay community, even made it a defining campaign theme. That's morally and ethically commendable, but politically unnecessary.

The first go-round is the primary, where you mobilize your base. In the runoff, you move sharply to the local political center. Skorman kept campaigning to his base, while Bach actually swiped many of Richard's pro-downtown and "economic gardening" themes. As the race wore on, Richard seemed increasingly tired and dispirited, and Steve an Energizer bunny.

In the end, though, the election wasn't about change or ideology. It was about which group of longtime local leaders would get their guy elected. The social conservatives of the north may have given Bach votes, but they won't have much power in his administration. He'll listen to longtime friends and associates, much in evidence Tuesday night at Mr. Biggs: Jon and Becky Medved, Steve Schuck, Bill Hybl, Chuck Fowler and Steve Bartolin.

As for Skorman's supporters, will they be frozen out of power and access?

No, because there's not that much difference between the two camps. This may be a city of about 418,000 people, but only a few are intimately engaged in municipal politics. They serve on boards and commissions, go to meetings, contribute to candidates, and try to make things better.

They get along pretty well, most of the time. And all of them, including Bach and Skorman, hope we've seen the last of Douglas Bruce ... who, for the first time in recent memory, was nowhere in evidence on election night.

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