How a district changed hands

Posted 11/8/10

The morning after learning he had lost his seat in the state House of Representatives, Joe Rice was resigned but not dejected. Republican political …

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How a district changed hands


The morning after learning he had lost his seat in the state House of Representatives, Joe Rice was resigned but not dejected.

Republican political newcomer Kathleen Conti had narrowly defeated the veteran Democratic state legislator Nov. 2 in the District 38 contest.

“The fact that I didn’t get completely blown out, the fact that I ever won, is more amazing,” Rice said, referring to how he gained a seat four years ago in this traditionally Republican district.

Maps of District 38, which encompasses most of Littleton and Greenwood Village and portions of Englewood and Centennial, still hung on the wall at Rice’s campaign headquarters. Lists of voters’ addresses and phone numbers were piled on tables.

Rice’s campaign manager, John Scott, unwilling to admit defeat, worked the phones and advised Rice not to give interviews when the results were not yet official. But Rice, a Littleton resident, had essentially given up hope the evening before.

By 8:45 p.m. on election night, as his supporters huddled around a wall-mounted television at the Old Mill Brewery and Grill in downtown Littleton, Rice told reporters it would be too difficult to come back from the then-500-vote deficit.

From there, the margin would only grow in favor of Conti.

Even with roughly 7,500 provisional ballots still uncounted in Arapahoe County, Rice conceded to Conti, calling her in the early morning hours of Nov. 3. On Nov. 5, Arapahoe County’s latest tally put Rice trailing Conti by more than 800 votes. The Republican held a 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent advantage.

The question many were asking in the days after the election: How did a popular second-term politician, who was known as a moderate, enjoyed bipartisan support and had more campaign money to spend, lose this race?

Analyzing defeat

According to Rice’s website, the Iraq war veteran and former mayor of Glendale had garnered endorsements from the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, Colorado Veterans for America and every former Littleton mayor going back to 1971, among others.

Rice outspent Conti by nearly three to one. According to filings with the Colorado Secretary of State, he raised nearly $130,000 in campaign contributions for this election cycle, ending Oct. 27. Conti raised $44,000.

Rice attributed his loss to many factors, including the national anti-Democrat, anti-incumbent sentiment, his support of the FASTER bill and negative campaign advertisements that inundated voters’ mailboxes, TVs and radios in the weeks leading up to election day.

“I would not blame losing on any one thing, it’s always a combination of things,” Rice said.

Rice said that when he pushed the FASTER bill, which raised vehicle registration fees to fund road and bridge repairs, he knew it could ultimately cost him his job.

“There’s a reason nobody did anything on transportation for 18 years,” Rice said. “Absolutely, FASTER was a contributing factor (to my loss). But if I would have not run FASTER, and I think that’s one that probably would not have happened without me, we would probably still be having issues. I didn’t get elected to get re-elected.”

Democratic State Sen. Linda Newell, of Littleton, was like Rice, elected by a narrow margin in a traditionally Republican district. She said Rice was a victim of the current national sentiment. She added that she was extremely surprised he was not elected to a third term.

“I think he just got swept up into the frustration people are feeling nationwide over job loss, over economic struggles and I think Joe just became a victim of that,” Newell said. “To me, it’s a combination of both the national frustration, but also the lack of knowledge. Maybe people didn’t have the time to do the research on the candidates.”

One of Conti’s claims throughout this election season was that Rice did not advertise himself as a Democrat.

“I think people started to recognize that Mr. Rice was not the conservative he claimed to be,” the Littleton resident said on election night from her Republican headquarters at the Double Tree Hotel in Greenwood Village. “I think (voters) were looking for something different.”

What’s next?

Conti, who owns a small business, attributed her victory to hard work, sacrifice and a dedicated team of volunteers. She said she had no idea how close the race would be.

“I just knew that we had done everything we could do,” she said. “I really wasn’t nervous.”

During her campaign, Conti promoted herself as the fiscally conservative alternative to Rice. She noted a desire to work with business and industry leaders to bring jobs and revenue to Colorado.

As for a rematch?

Rice was hesitant to say he would attempt another run for public office. But this likely will not be the last citizens will hear from him.

“There’s a couple things that should be pretty clear from my personality,” he said. “I believe in public service, whether that’s military service political service, community service, so I am not going to just fade away. Is that a run for office some day? It’s too early to tell.”


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