By Peter Jones
Entrepreneurial experience resoundingly beat youthful conservatism last week in the Republican primary race in state House District 37.
Businessman and mechanical engineer Jack Tate defeated 26-year-old schoolteacher Michael Fields by a landslide of 32 percentage points in the June 24 mail-in ballot. The lopsided victory came despite Fields’s early entry and his endorsements from 37’s incumbent Rep. Spencer Swalm and other heavy hitters.
Tate, 46, entered the crowded contest earlier this year and wound up defeating not just Fields, who had been courting party support for more than a year, but two other GOP veterans who had failed to make it out of the Republican assembly.
Tate, who lost his run for Centennial City Council last year, believes his emphatic primary win can be attributed to hard work, as well as his campaign’s strong focus on such kitchen-table issues as jobs and the economy.
“I had a lot of credibility talking about that, whereas my opponent really doesn’t,” he said. “When I was his age, I already had five years of experience working at a Fortune 100 company. He has a different career trajectory. I think in a few years he’ll be a very exciting person to watch.”
Tate’s strong win was a surprise to many who thought Fields’s endorsements from Swalm and former state Senate President John Andrews would go far in a primary dominated by party activists, but in the end his message of education reform and social conservatism took a backseat to more universal pocketbook themes.
Fields, who has thrown his support behind Tate, agrees that his former opponent’s resume played a huge role in the race’s outcome – given ongoing and widespread concern about the economy and a belief that business experience is key to addressing such concerns, even if both candidates have their strong suits.
“Most of the people I talked to said they liked both of us,” Fields said. “I just think Jack has a little bit more experience. That experience angle really benefited him. I’m encouraged by the support I did get, but Jack ran a really good campaign.”
Tate’s victory came as other mainstream Republicans also beat out more conservative opponents in primary races, most notably former U.S. Rep Bob Beauprez, who defeated second-place gubernatorial finisher Tom Tancredo.
Although District 37 is significantly less “purple” than Colorado as a whole, its majority of independent voters are considered the wild card in the Republican-leaning area and those electors are expected to effectively decide the election between Tate and Democrat Nancy Cronk.
Although incumbent Swalm narrowly defeated his first Democratic opponent in 2006, redistricting has since increased the Republican numbers. Centennial-based District 37 expanded into unincorporated areas, as well as Foxfield, Dove Valley, Inverness and parts of Greenwood Village and Democratic-leaning Aurora. Although redistricting per the 2010 U.S. Census maintained 37’s Republican majority, the Democratic and unaffiliated numbers have also inched up.
Cronk believes GOP voters made a wise decision in selecting Tate over Fields.
“I think the Centennial area is very moderate,” she said. “It’s not the red place it used to be and I think the voters said that. Mr. Tate raised a family here. Those things help in this district. The average voter is older and they appreciate his experience.”
For Tate’s part, he considers himself a Republican first, a conservative second.
“I think [Fields] did the opposite,” he said. “A political party isn’t necessarily connected to any certain ideology. It’s just a vehicle. The ideology of a party reflects the beliefs of the members at that time.”
That is why Tate says his candidacy echoed what he says are the concerns of District 37 voters – the economy, education and effects of the Affordable Care Act.
“I just went with what people said was most important [in door-to-door campaign visits],” he said. “If you’re advertising a product and people said, I really like ‘tastes great’ more than ‘less filling,’ you’re going to emphasize the ‘tastes great,’ even though you’re ‘less filling’ too.”
In the primary with right-leaning Fields, Tate also stressed his conservative credentials, though even Fields thinks the nominee would be wise to adjust gears in his general-election contest with left-leaning Cronk.
“I think Tate will be comfortable with sticking to the economy and small-business growth,” Fields said. “I think he said conservative five or six times on that last mailer and didn’t really use that earlier.”
Fields thinks his former opponent will win by about 10 percentage points if his campaign stays on track with unaffiliated voters.
Tate thinks he is well positioned to do just that.
“I think I’ve established a basic place where I have pretty broad appeal to independents,” the nominee said.
Cronk says she expects to robustly vie for those same unaffiliated voters.
“I look forward to vigorous election cycle and an honest and respectful campaign,” she said. “We have to live in this community long after the election’s over and our families do as well.”
Election Day is Nov. 4.
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