My guess is that Amendment 36, which has dominated its share of Ron Brownstein's ("an enormous wild card"!) and George Will's ("November's most portentous vote"!) columns, will prove a lot of hand-wringing over nothing. Goo-goo initiatives always poll well at the outset, when reformers can reduce them to benign catchphrases: Who wants more democracy?! But as opponents begin to pepper the media with counterattacks, the "yea" numbers tend to drop like stones. "It's much easier to be on the 'no' side, because it's like a jury trial," says Katy Atkinson. "All we have to do is create reasonable doubt." Atkinson and Gov. Bill Owens, another Republican, have traversed Colorado slamming Amendment 36 as "unilateral disarmament." An Oct. 8 Survey USA poll had the amendment leading 45 percent to 44 percent. Veterans of state initiatives say unless an amendment is polling over 60 percent on Election Day, there's little chance it will pass.
With Republicans savaging the amendment and Democrats hedging their bets, the "yea" side of Amendment 36 has become a tragic, lonely place. The amendment advocates are led by a whip-smart consultant named Julie Brown, who works in a spare office near the state capitol. With few politicians at her disposal, Brown has been forced to trudge to try to win over tiny groups: the Lakewood Optimist Club, the Sloan's Lake Citizens Group, and, a few weeks ago, the Arapahoe County Republican Men's Club.
The members of the Men's Club sat in angry silence while Brown walked to the podium and ambled through her talking points. When she finished, there was a short pause, and then the members raised their hands and waited their turn to pummel her during the question-and-answer period. A bald, mustachioed Men's Clubber, who was standing near the back, offered a rousing defense of the Electoral College. An elderly man rose and began a harangue that lasted several minutes and expanded to include a diatribe against liberal coastal elites. A gray-haired member cut to the heart of the matter. "It appears you are trying to change our country from a republic to a democracy," he said. "Why are you trying to do that?"
Correction, Oct. 25, 2004: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Harry Truman, not Lyndon Johnson, was the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry Colorado before Bill Clinton in 1992. Return to the corrected sentence.