Letting One Slip Away in Colorado, but Overall GOP Gains

     Besides the Delaware race, perhaps nowhere else is the ineptitude of a state Republican apparatus more in evidence than in Colorado.  It is a scene from an upcoming release of “Republicans Gone Wild.”

     Starting with the Governor’s race, Republicans began shooting themselves in their feet quite early and it has evolved into a three-way race in the general election.  The Democratic candidate was a foregone conclusion- John Hicklenhooper.  The bid for the Republican nod was between Scott McInnis, a former Congressman, and Dan Maes.  In pre-primary polling of hypothetical match ups against Hicklenhooper, McInnis was within striking distance which would indicate a certain level of dissatisfaction with the Democratic brand in Colorado.  Then two things happened along the way.  First, McInnis became embroiled in a plagiarism scandal which Maes used to his full advantage.  Then former Congressman and anti-immigration firebrand Tom Tancredo entered the race insisting that if either Maes or McInnis won the primary, they should step aside because neither could defeat Hicklenhooper.  And despite calls by both the party establishment and outside groups for Tancredo to step aside, he persisted.  Of course, the TEA Party folks had a stake in the outcome as they supported Maes in a struggle with the party establishment.  Yet, Tancredo continues his third party bid to this date.

     In the August 10th primary, Maes eeked out a narrow victory over McInnis.  In the pre-primary polls, Maes fared considerably worse than McInnis in hypothetical match ups against Hicklenhooper.  Yet, the weaker, less electable candidate was chosen in what was obviously going to be a 3-way race.  Since the primary, due to the inherent weakness of Maes coupled with Tancredo on the ballot, Hicklenhooper has become a safe bet to win.  In fact, Maes is such a weak candidate that he now trails even Tancredo in some polls.  Dan Maes is the Kenrick Meek of the Republican Party.  Even if Tancredo were to withdraw- and he is not- it would be doubtful Maes would fare considerably better and overtake Hicklenhooper.

     We are left with a lot of “what ifs?”  We can surmise from the pre-primary polling data that McInnis would have been a lot closer to Hicklenhooper than Maes is today.  Perhaps, this would have been the motivation to force Tancredo out of the race and allowing McInnis to slip though and win.  But the whole dynamic has changed.  There is tremendous anti-incumbent sentiment in the western states and Colorado is no exception.  It is why the TEA party has had greater success here than in other regions of the country.  However, in this case they essentially handed the race to the Democrats while the state GOP looks disorganized at best and inept at worst.

     Moving on to the Senate race, incumbent Michael Bennett was chosen to fill out the term of Ken Salazar and announced his intention to seek re-election for a full term.  Here, Republicans saw an opportunity because Bennett would first have to fight off Paul Romanoff in the Democratic primary.  Obama eventually stepped in and endorsed Bennett while Bill Clinton threw his support behind Romanoff.  Bennett eventually prevailed.  On the Republican side, it appeared Lt. Governor Sue Norton would get her party’s nod until the TEA Party threw thier support behind Ken Buck.  It became a battle between the Colorado party establishment and the insurgent outsiders.  Preoccupied with the Maes-McInnis-Tancredo mess, they were caught off guard when Buck edged Norton by a 52-48% margin in the Republican primary.  Unlike Maes, Buck has fared better against Bennett.  But again in pre-primary polling, Norton held leads over both Bennett and Romanoff while Buck trailed Bennett slightly and Romanoff by large margins.

     Since the primary, depending on the pollster, Buck has gained the lead on Bennett while some polls atually show Bennett in the lead.  This race will go down to the wire and is way too close to call.  The final vote will be the ultimate poll and any little mistake by either candidate in the last two weeks before the election could spell defeat.

     Of Colorado’s 7 Congressional districts, five are currently represented by Democrats.  However, only in the urban 1st and 2nd districts are they considered safe.  In fact, Democrats currently hold two Republican Cook PVI districts.  The two lone Republican-represented districts are safe- the 5th and 6th.  The Third District comprising the western and southern central part of Colorado is held by John Salazar.  He won mainly on the large Hispanic turn out of the past, but trails Scott Tipton by 8 points in the polls.  This is the largest and least urban of Colorado’s seven districts which should further favor Tipton.

     In the 4th District, represented by Betsy Markey, comprises the eastern plains region of Colorado.  In 2008, Markey was buoyed by Obama at the top of the ticket, but she lacks that luxury this year.  The momentum she used in 2008 to win Larimer and Weld counties will not be there this year.  For example, although these two counties account for 33% of the land area of the district, about 85% of the voters reside in these two counties.  With decreased turn out, the Republican rural vote will be amplified.  Coupled with the fact that Markey’s stances are a little too libral for this district, it is no wonder she trails Republican challenger Cory Gardner by 11 points.  Also, the district borders conservative Nebraska and Kansas.  There may be a borderline separating the district from these states, but not their traditional conservative values.

     Finally, in the 7th District which includes the northern parts of the Denver metro area, incumbent Ed Perlmutter finds himself trailing Bryan Frazier by one point.  Given the demographics, Perlmutter should eventually prevail.  However, it is a sign of how the Third and Fourth districts should go.  If an incumbent Democrat in Colorado can have trouble in a Democratic, urban district, then Democrats will go down to defeat in other, more traditionally Republican districts.

    Lessons are to be learned by both parties from this year’s election.  For the Democrats, they will learn that Colorado cannot be counted in their column despite the much celebrated “recent trends.”  With the correct Republican candidates, Democrats are vulnerable to defeat.  Their main base of power is Denver.  But as one gets increasingkly further away from the Denver metro area, their influence and power decreases.  This is a purple state and certainly not a blue state.

     For the Republicans, the Party has fumbled away the Governor’s office and possibly a Senate seat pick-up.  It would appear, given the anticipated two seat pick up in the House, that things work better at the local level.  But the Governor and Senate races on the GOP side have revealed disorganization and ineptitude.  a house cleaning is in order at the state level within the Republican Party in Colorado if they are to have statewide influence moving forward.