Midterm Races in Colorado

A couple of years ago, the political pundits on the Left were lauding Colorado for their if not blue status, then their purple status.  Today, these same political pundits are scratching their heads at the “weirdness” of Colorado.  To them, it is inconceivable that Democratic Governor John Hicklenhooper and Democratic [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’U000038′ ] would be endangered species in 2014.  Before getting to these two marquee races, let’s look at the congressional races where even here, the Democrats are finding themselves thwarted.

The current congressional delegation favors the GOP 4-3.  The three Democratic congresspeople all represent fairly reliable Democratic districts with the possible exception of [mc_name name=’Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’P000593′ ] in the Seventh District.  For the four Republicans, two of their districts are fairly strong Republican strongholds, but one is an open seat this year.  That would mean that the Democrats have two GOP targets in Colorado- Tipton in the 3rd District and  Coffman in the 6th District.  In that 3rd District, Democrat Abel Tapia has failed to gain any traction against Tipton and this district should remain in Republican control.

They key target for the Democrats was the 6th District and [mc_name name=’Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C001077′ ].  They believed they had the ideal opponent in Andrew Romanoff.  Although there is minimal polling data on this race, we can look elsewhere for clues as to its outcome.  The DCCC recently pulled some money dedicated to advertisement time which indicates that they have basically conceded this race to Coffman.  The truth is that Romanoff failed to gain any traction also despite being a higher profile name in Colorado politics than Abel Tapia.

As for the open Fourth District race, Corey Gardner is running for US Senate on the Republican side.  The GOP candidate will be former US Senate candidate Ken Buck against Democrat Vic Meyers.  When Buck ran for Senate against [mc_name name=’Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B001267′ ]t in 2012, this writer believed it was a huge step going from a county position for Buck to a statewide seat.  Instead, the better path, should Buck seek higher office at a future date, would be a House seat first.  In other words, this is a perfect fit for Ken Buck who will get to Washington next year as the next Representative of the 4th District.  Hence, the partisan breakdown of the Colorado congressional delegation will remain 4-3 for the GOP.

In the gubernatorial race, John Hicklenhooper was riding a wave of popularity in his state at one time.  He came across as a reasonable moderate Governor, but somewhere the train came off the tracks.  That “somewhere” was his support for a controversial gun control measure in Colorado.  This played into a general feeling that Hicklenhooper had veered to the Left after running in 2010 as a moderate.  Since then, he has tried to re-position himself and nowhere is this more obvious than his newest stance on legalized pot.  In a recent debate, he said that Colorado was un- or misinformed about legalization and that other states should learn from Colorado.  It is the type of noncommittal answer to a question one would expect from a politician trying to redefine himself during a campaign.

It should also be mentioned that Hicklenhooper’s recent appearance with Obama at a bar playing pool has associated the Governor with an unpopular President.  While other Democrats are running from Obama, this embrace by Hicklenhooper only further hurts his chances.  His Republican opponent- former congressman and gubernatorial candidate- Bob Beauprez has been running a carefully designed campaign by defining the issues of concern to Colorado, be they gun control, release of violent prisoners, pot legalization, etc.

The fact is that as Election Day nears, despite Hicklenhooper’s early leads in polling, he has been trending in the wrong direction while Beauprez since September 1st is in the mid- to upper 40% range (once actually hitting 50%).  This will likely be a close race and one the Democrats did not believe would be as close at this point in the game.  Hicklenhooper has not closed the deal and most of his drop in the polls is self-inflicted.  Prediction:  Bob Beauprez by 2-3 points.

In the Senatorial race, Democratic incumbent Mark Udall finds himself in a similar circumstance.  Obama weighs like an albatross around his neck.  And despite his attempts to redefine himself as some anti-Obama, his record speaks for itself.  His problems started when Corey Gardner became the Republican candidate.  He was the one Republican in the state who the Democrats feared the most as an opponent.  He is known as a great campaigner in his congressional races in the 4th District.  Thus far, he is proving the pundits right.  In fact, his campaign strategy should be used as a template to electoral victory by Republicans nationwide.

By focusing on Udall’s record which basically is a reflection of the Obama agenda, Gardner has surged in the polls.  Although Udall can run and hide from Obama as he passes through Colorado, he cannot hide from his voting record in the Senate.  Thus Udall is reduced to resorting to an increasing worn out tactic- try to define Gardner as a woman-hating, gay bashing, out of the mainstream Colorado representative.  When you can’t defend your record, attack your opponent on the social issues.  The problem for Udall is that Gardner anticipated this and thwarted these efforts with a proposal that a liberal now finds himself in the position of thrashing- over the counter contraception.  Really?  Gardner, in fact, has been quite open about his wife’s use of contraceptives while maintaining a pro-life stance.  In effect, he is redirecting the conversation back to issues that grate on Udall and for which he cannot defend other than Colorado voters coming to the conclusion that Udall is a rubber stamp for Barack Obama.

As early as April of this year, every pundit knew this race had the potential to be close if Gardner ran against Udall.  Polling at that time had Gardner down by only two points and, on a monthly basis, that was the furthest Gardner polled from Udall.  Assuming Gardner is not drawn into some mistake between now and Election Day, it is clear that he has the momentum going into the election.  Prediction: This will come down to the wire, but Corey Gardner will win a very close race (points undetermined at this time).

There are two questions of interest on the Colorado ballot this year.  One would require the labeling of genetically modified foodstuffs.  Like Oregon, unless there are two-headed babies in Colorado, what is the big deal.  News flash: there has been genetically modified foodstuffs since Gregor Mendel.  The second issue is a constitutional amendment which would define a fetus as a person with legal protections.  Although I certainly believe this is true, I also am a realist.  A similar effort failed in Mississippi in the past.  If it is going to fail in that state which is decidedly more conservative than Colorado, and a similar effort will fail in South Dakota this year, it is highly doubtful it will succeed in Colorado.  For his part, despite his strong pro-life record and stances, Corey Gardner concedes the effort goes too far and is unnecessary.

Next: Louisiana which presents a challenge of a different kind for both parties.