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Election 2010

Will Bike-Phobic Dan Maes Cost the Colorado GOP Major Party Status?

This is the third installment of Streetsblog Capitol Hill's series on key governor’s races. Earlier we brought you stories about a candidate who likes bikes but isn't sure about transit in Tennessee, and the choice between light rail and bus rapid transit in Maryland. Here we turn our attention to Colorado.

Colorado is a classic swing state. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by a margin of just 3.5 percent. The state voted for Obama in 2008, the first time it went blue in a presidential contest since Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. And before that, you had to go all the way back to LBJ.

But now this purple state may be losing its red. Gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes’ trainwreck of a campaign could leave the GOP a minor party in the state of Colorado. Could it have something to do with his bizarre allegations that bike-sharing in Denver is a UN plot? Or his zeal to de-regulate the oil and gas industries?

From left: Tom Tancredo, Dan Maes, and John Hickenlooper in a three-way debate in Colorado's gubernatorial election. Image: ##

As Talking Points Memo reported yesterday, if Maes fails to attract just 10 percent of the votes next Tuesday, the GOP will be saddled with minor party status in Colorado until 2014. A recent Denver Post poll shows him at 9 percent. The Democratic-affiliated PPP poll gives him just 5 percent. Minor party status would leave the GOP at a serious disadvantage by limiting their fundraising and ceding their spot at the top of the ballot.

That doesn’t mean Democrat John Hickenlooper will just cruise into the governor’s mansion though. American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo (formerly a Republican member of Congress) is making this race a contest, with Hickenlooper ahead by about 6 percent, according to the polling average cited on Real Clear Politics. They’re competing for the seat being vacated by Democrat Bill Ritter, who was rated the country’s greenest governor last year.

Tancredo is too singularly obsessed with immigration to talk much about transportation or environmental issues. But not Maes.

"This is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed," he said in August of Denver’s bike-sharing program, which Hickenlooper had helped to launch as the city's mayor. "This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms."

His conspiracy theories about bicycles made Maes, a Tea Party favorite, a bit of an easy target for his opponents. He fueled the fire with a series of paranoid statements, each kookier than the last, about the UN plot to subdue America through cycling.

Maes, who got his start in business working in the telecommunications industry before moving on to a credit reporting agency, is more of an oil-and-gas guy. He wants to remove “bureaucratic regulations” that restrict the fossil fuel industry.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper has been fiercely promoting green transportation during his tenure as mayor of Denver. Openly asking questions like, "How do we wean ourselves off automobiles?", Hickenlooper has championed both biking and transit, building consensus among 32 area mayors for the $6.5 billion FasTracks regional rail and bus expansion project.

Hickenlooper has gotten under the skin of the auto industry by openly plotting the shift away from the single-occupancy vehicle. “This country's in love with automobiles,” he said in an interview with Grist. “That's not going to go away quick. But we can give people more options.”

He likens the ascent of biking versus driving to the rapid rise of the cell phone. “If you told people 10 years ago that landlines would disappear as fast as they are, they wouldn't have believed you.”

And Hickenlooper is very aware of the sea change in people’s desire for urbanism. “People say nobody wants to live in downtowns in Western cities, because people want yards,” he told Grist. “But we built over 25,000 condominiums and homes in downtown Denver in the last 15 years. If you lay [transit] out right, people will change their ways.”

But the 40 percent of the vote Tancredo is commanding points to the fact that for a large part of the Colorado electorate, this election isn’t about energy independence or smart cities. It’s about immigration. Hickenlooper has had to play defense on charges that he’s made Denver a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants.

But whether or not he wins the Minuteman vote, he’s got the bike vote locked up.

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