Colo. Freshman to Defend Hard-Won Seat

Like no other freshman member of Congress, Colorado Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez (search) can’t afford to be seen indulging in the age-old "party politics" of the left-right spectrum.

That’s because this Republican won his seat in 2002 by a scant 120 votes – by far the tightest margin of any House race in 2002 – in a district that was one-third GOP, one-third Democrat and one-third independent when he was elected.

Since then, despite failed Republican attempts to alter the map, the 7th District has actually become slightly more Democratic.

That doesn’t seem to faze Beauprez, who comes from a family of Colorado cattle ranchers and dairy farmers and now runs one of the most successful community banks in the state.

"How are you going to represent the entire district under these circumstances? I approach it much like I did my business," said Beauprez, who built Heritage Bank (search) from a one-branch operation in 1990.

"You forget about Democratic voters and Republican voters and even independent voters. Transportation, the VA hospital, taxation, Medicare for prescription drugs — I don’t know how you can adequately address those big issues, including the War on Terror, and think of them as partisan," he told

The 7th District was created after the 2000 census, when a population boom earned Colorado another congressional seat. It incorporates three counties and most of the inner Denver suburbs, including Aurora and Lakewood. There is an increasing Hispanic immigrant population and growing black middle class, which has made it slightly more Democratic since 2002, say analysts.

Beauprez beat former Democratic state Sen. Mike Feeley 47 percent to 47 percent in 2002. This year, Dave Thomas (search), who lost to Feeley in the Democratic primary two years ago, is Beauprez's sole opponent.

Analysts say the odds are better for the Republican, since he’s had a year to cement his support. Campaign forecasts at have this race in their toss-up/tilting Republican column. Analysts there say Beauprez is still vulnerable because of the configuration of the district.

Republicans don’t appear threatened.

"The incredible ability of Bob Beauprez to win voters over with hard work, to get things done for the district makes us very comfortable with this race," assured Chris Paulitz, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (search).

But Thomas, who has been the elected Jefferson County District Attorney (search) for 12 years and prosecuted the cases involving the 1999 Columbine High School murders, said he is equally strong, if not stronger than Feeley two years ago, and has the disenchantment of the voters on his side as well.

"What I’m hearing is I’m not only equally strong, but I’m the right person, in the right place and at the right time," Thomas told "He does have the advantage of incumbency. He has a fundraising advantage because he’s been in Congress for over a year. But we are gaining on him."

He said the economy has not picked up on Colorado and the working class is feeling it. Meanwhile, he blames Republicans in Congress for spending wildly and racking up the deficit. He said growing uneasiness with the war in Iraq doesn’t help, either.

"(Beauprez) votes 97 percent the party line, and there is a growing disenchantment with members of Congress who simply vote party line without exploring the issues of importance to the people of the district," said Thomas, who has also served as a U.S. District Attorney in Colorado. "What people are looking forward is for people who are going to work hard towards creative solutions to their problems."

But Beauprez said that his district is doing better than most areas of the country, with promise on a number of different fronts – from a travel industry pick-up to bio-medical research and defense contracting. He points to his role in the creation of a new Veterans Administration hospital in the district, as well as bringing in millions in necessary transportation funding this year.

Chris Gage, executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party, said Beauprez can hardly take credit for all of this good news. "Bob Beauprez has done absolutely nothing – he is the talking points congressman and he doesn’t have anything original to say," he said, dismissing the idea that Beauprez is independent from party politics.

In fact, Democrats point out that President Bush hardly has a lock on Colorado – he won the state to Vice President Al Gore by just 50 to 49 percent in 2000. Democrats are counting on a wave of pro-Democratic support to swing the state their way this year in both the presidential and congressional races.

The 7th district "is a race we absolutely think we can win," he said, referring to Thomas. "We have a very strong candidate, a very, very popular district attorney."

Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., doesn’t agree. "My prediction is he [Beauprez] will win by seven to nine points – he’s solidifying that district better than I have ever seen," he told "I’ll take a bet from anybody on that race."