Pete Coors Puts Ad Skills To Work In Senate Race

Traditionally a Republican stronghold, Colorado has already garnered interest from John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Another good fight is shaping up there as well: a race to fill Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s Senate seat that is likely to pit a nationally known businessman against a locally grown state politician.

With the primary Aug. 10, the two leading candidates have begun TV advertising. In the Republican corner is Pete Coors, head of the Coors Brewery and a fourth-generation Coloradan. The Democrat is state attorney general Ken Salazar, a fifth-generation Coloradan. (The other challengers, Republican Bob Schaffer and Democrat Mike Miles, have not yet aired any ads.) Coors’ and Salazar’s first ads are fairly typical for Colorado, with prominent use of the state’s vistas and a focus on the environment.

Coors, 57, needs no introduction. “Our name recognition is second only to John Elway in Colorado,” said campaign manager Sean Tonner. Plus, he has appeared in many folksy ads for Coors beer. But with this first political ad, “I’m Pete Coors,” which broke Memorial Day weekend, the political neophyte is looking to show voters a different side of himself.

Though Coors runs the third-largest brewery in the U.S., the spot suggests he did not simply inherit his fortune. “I learned about business from the ground up—from sweeping the floors to running the company,” he says. Coors describes himself as “a Colorado businessman” and “a jobs creator” but says his proudest moment was marrying wife Marilyn.

The spot also plays up Coors’ political- outsider status, promising “straight talk” and “honest answers.” “Washington wastes too much of taxpayers’ money,” Coors says at a meeting. After approving the spot, he tells viewers, “Thanks for listening.”

The commercial is the first in what the campaign is calling, “A conversation with Colorado,” Tonner said. Subsequent spots will address the candidate’s plan for the economy and job creation and homeland security, all while trading on Coors’ business success.

“They’re going to say, ‘I’ve been successful in business, and here are some reasons why you should vote for me,’ ” Tonner said. The campaign has raised roughly $1 million so far but expects to spend $5 million on advertising through November, assuming Coors wins the primary, Tonner said.

Meanwhile, Salazar, 49, has been running an introductory spot since early May touting his humble roots and familiarity with the state. Driving his 1994 Ford Ranger pickup and wearing a cowboy hat, Salazar says he was “raised to help people” and that he has visited every county in the state.

“My parents always said they couldn’t give us riches but they could give us an education,” Salazar says, before a voiceover describes how he grew up on a ranch that had no electricity until 1981. The spot also addresses his record as attorney general. Salazar then announces his approval of the ad and says, “I hope to get to your town soon.”

“He’s about the only Democrat that’s been elected statewide in the past decade,” said Mandy Grunwald, who is working as a media consultant for Salazar. “We like to say Ken has experience money can’t buy.”

While Colorado has just nine electoral votes, it has become a presidential battleground. Kerry included it in his $25 million ad push in early May, as campaign polling showed George Bush’s approval and re-election numbers slipping. Bush countered with spots attacking Kerry on Iraq and the economy.

The national interest can be a double-edged sword for the Senate candidates. “It adds more clutter,” Tonner said. “[The ads] are starting to lighten up a little, which allows us to have a cleaner shot.”