COLORADO SPRINGS — Democrats gathered for training and strategic planning on Saturday, hoping to duplicate last year’s triumph that helped them win control of the state Legislature and pick up a Senate and House seat in last year’s elections.
Analysts said that could be difficult after Pat Waak led a band of party activists to oust party chairman Chris Gates after the elections were over.
Waak acknowledged that fundraising has declined since she took the reins. She blamed it on competition for funds being raised for House races and Democratic support for two measures on this year’s ballot to fix problems with the state budget.
“We’re competing with everyone. It’s not going as fast as I would like it to,” she said.
Gates said the party is fractured between the old guard and the new guard, the party officials who knew how to raise money and read polls and grassroots organizers who could run phone banks and get out the vote after Waak and her followers ousted him and his team. Gates said he is still active in the Democratic Party and people want to help.
“I think it’s important for people to realize that it’s a false choice that people need to choose between raising money and having activists. During the last election, we had a good mix of people who knew the ropes and people who had new and fresh energy,” he said.
Rich Shepard, president of Democracy for Colorado, said he’s one of those activists. He formed his organization after Howard Dean stopped campaigning in Colorado and Dean’s army had no place to go.
Shepard said he’s counting on a get-out-the-vote effort in the coming year. At Saturday’s event, he manned a table, distributing maps of the state’s 3,478 precincts, and hopes to have someone go door to door in every one of them.
“A lot of Democrats in the outlying areas of Colorado are not active. The old guard raised money, but they were never active all across the state,” he said.
Shepard said his group has no membership and doesn’t rely on polls. “We take our own polls. We take what people tell us,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette also attended the weekend strategy sessions.
“When Pat Waak won, a lot of the old guard said those liberals are taking over. My impression is that the new members aren’t any more liberal than the people who were active when I came to the party in 1982,” DeGette said.
Democratic political consultant Mike Stratton said Waak has been good for the party, motivating party activists after campaign reform limited the financial power that the state parties once wielded. He said the party needs to concentrate on motivating volunteers because both major parties no longer have large sums of money to dole out to candidates.
“The Democrats are always fractured. I supported Chris Gates, but I have to take my hat off to Pat Waak. For her to activate the grassroots is a good thing,” he said.
Pollster Floyd Ciruli said Waak will have a tough time duplicating last year’s stunning successes because the party officials meeting this weekend are not the same party officials who led the party to victory last year.
“They are the heirs of the great revolution of 2004, where it came as a surprise to everyone that they picked up a congressional seat, a U.S. Senate seat and both houses of the Legislature,” he said.
He said the biggest challenge will be the governor’s race.