Sore winners should lay off Musgrave

Republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, targeted five years ago by the Tim Gill machine for the crime of defending traditional marriage and finally brought down last month, is the most relentlessly and unjustly smeared public figure I can recall in 35 years of Colorado politics. Since the election, amazingly, the smears have continued from the Democrat who defeated her, Betsy Markey, aided by biased or lazy reporting from the state and national media. The rap against Musgrave now is that she hasn't made a courtesy phone call to Markey, hasn't spoken to her supporters, and hasn't even thanked her own staff -- making her one of America's sorest losers, according to no less an authority than Newsweek.

These heinous offenses have been repeatedly alleged in the Denver papers, most recently this week with stories in the Post and the Rocky occasioned by Musgrave's campaign efforts in the Georgia Senate runoff. But they are baloney three times over. A stronger term occurs to me, but this is a family website.

First as to the allegation of ungrateful and ungracious behavior to her own side, longtime staffer Guy Short assures me that employees for both the campaign and the congressional office have been not only generously thanked but also financially looked out for. To the charge (quoting the Denver Post, but originated by the Fort Collins Coloradoan) that "she has yet to... publicly address her supporters or volunteers, many of whom had gathered at a restaurant on election night," Short told the Coloradoan editor in an email:

    "I don't know where you heard that Marilyn didn't thank her supporters but that is simply not true. She thanked her supporters election night at Jackson's Hole in Greeley and at the Fairfield Hotel in Greeley. She has made hundreds of phone calls thanking supporters and has written hundreds of letters thanking supporters."

But the most damning piece of spin against Musgrave, reflecting political ignorance and naivete at best or sore-winner spite and conscious falsehood at worst, is the suggestion from Markey's camp that the losing candidate has committed some unheard-of pettiness and snub by not getting in touch with the winner.

As Ben Marter, spokesman for the congresswoman-elect, told the Post: "The voters have spoken and it's customary to call your opponent to concede the race, but we're moving forward."

Wrong. I can find no evidence of any such Colorado custom in congressional and legislative races. Tom Tancredo, retiring this year from Congress, says no Democrat ever called him to concede or extend congratulations after his two state House and five US House victories stretching back to the 1970s.

Mike Coffman, newly elected to succeed Tancredo, received no call or contact of any kind from Hank Eng, the Democrat he defeated. I received no call from the Democrat who pummeled me with negative mailers but lost anyway, in our state Senate race of 2000.

Musgrave herself, according to Guy Short, is in the same situation as Tancredo -- never in a long string of elections for state House, state Senate, and Congress has her defeated Democrat opponent bothered to call.

You see, it's just not done that way. Presidential combatants do the concede-and-congratulate thing because it's in glare of national and world attention. I don't know what happens in all governor's races, but I personally went to see Gov. Roy Romer after he beat me on election night 1990. But at the congressional and legislative level -- memo to Ben Marter and Betsy Markey -- to say it's "customary" is just not so.

Formal declarations of conceding or refusing-to-concede have relevance only in disputed races with razor-thin margins, such as the month-long 2002 duel in CD-7 between Dem Mike Feeley and eventual Republican winner Bob Beauprez, or this year's drawn-out SD-26 contest where Republican Lauri Clapp was finally edged out by Democrat Linda Newell.

If the new 4th CD congresslady wants to show some class, she can give this subject a rest and tell her cheering section to do the same. Instead of the sly statement "we're moving forward" while fanning the grievance in same breath, they need to lay off the victim thing, give a no-comment, and move forward.

In other words, Betsy, get over yourself. Where is it written that the campaign's not over until you're genuflected to? Didn't mom teach you not to kick someone when they're down? Isn't the victory enough in itself?

Disclosure: I am a longtime donor and endorser for Musgrave's congressional races.