Sunday, August 06, 2006

Colorado Governor Race

Race of the Day

August 6, 2006

93 Days Until Election Day

Colorado Governor

Status: Republican Open

2004 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

In 2002, Republican Governor Bill Owens was reelected by the voters in Colorado in a landslide fashion and with conservative publications hailing him as “America’s Best Governor” his national future looked very promising. Since that time though, Owens has dealt with and apparently resolved some marital issues and his party suffered some setbacks in the 2004 elections. He is no longer talked about frequently as a Presidential hopeful but still has fairly high job approval numbers. Nonetheless, he is not eligible to seek reelection and Democrats feel they have a shot at taking over the Governor’s Mansion.

The Democrat candidate will be former Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter. His journey to that current role had been far from smooth sailing. There has been much discontent within his party over Ritter’s Pro-Life views on abortion and the feeling that many liberal activists had that they should not surrender their principles on that issue, especially if they believed that other Democrats would be capable of getting elected. Several prominent Democrats have considered and then decided to pass on this race. The most noteworthy of which was popular Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who by far polled the strongest for any potential Democrat in this race. Hickenlooper had announced he would not run several months ago, but a draft effort persisted to the extent where it later appeared that he would indeed enter the race after lengthy consideration, then only to surprise and disappoint many at the end by announcing he would not run.

Since that time, just about the entire Democrat political establishment has rallied around Ritter and he has tried to defuse the abortion controversy by picking a very vocal pro-choice activist as his Lt. Governor running mate. Other candidates had announced candidacies but dropped out in favor of Ritter. Based on recent polling data, it does not appear that much long-term damage was done to Ritter by his having to endure by so much inter-party angst related to the prospect of his being the party’s standard bearer with the frantic search someone to stop him in the primary and how Hickenlooper effectively froze the race for so long with his wavering on whether or not to run. While the politicians are now on board, some of the most ardent supporters of legalized abortion may never be able to bring themselves to vote for Ritter, with so much attention being paid to the role that state governments are likely to play on the abortion issue. Still, recent polls have shown Ritter holding a slight lead in a fairly close race.

Much of the reason that Ritter appears to be in a potentially strong position today might be related to the contentious process that ultimately left Congressman Bob Beauprez as the last Republican standing. Beauprez, the favorite of Owens, and the GOP establishment who cite his ability to be elected to Congress in a district where Democrats have a good deal of strength had been challenged by former university president Marc Holtzman. Both candidates were conservatives, but there have been some inter-party divisions among Colorado Republicans over some tax and spending issues and a special election matter on related referenda where Holtzman unsuccessfully opposed the current Governor’s initiatives from the right, while Beauprez tried to stay out of the fray.

Surprisingly, Holtzman was unable to qualify for the primary ballot due to a lack of valid signatures. After some legal wrangling, Holtzman finally folded his campaign and announced his support for Beauprez, a move that many observers felt he would not have been so quick to do.

One of the most noteworthy things about this race is that both parties’ voters will probably come away less than totally enthused with the major party nominees in both parties. Such a factor would have been an opening for a third-party movement, but a credible movement never materialized.

The overall Republican lean to Colorado and the general popularity of Governor Owens would seem to be enough to allow the Republicans to start off this race as reasonable favorites but the dynamics have favored Ritter up to this point. Furthermore, Democrats were buoyed by legislative gains in the 2004 election and the taking of a GOP held U.S. Senate seat by Ken Salazar. They see it as an indication that Colorado is trending Democrat.

Still though, Colorado voted for George W. Bush by a significant margin and many believe that the Democrat gains had a lot more to do with local issues in the particular local races and the poor personal performance by GOP Senate candidate Pete Coors and the fact that Ken Salazar was simply the strongest candidate in the state that Democrats could nominate for any office. Salazar has wanted to be Governor but was an entrant into a U.S. Senate race for a seat that surprisingly opened up somewhat late in the cycle. Some wanted him to run for Governor this year, but the freshman Senator decided that three races in three years for three different offices would be an unwise move.

The 2006 election for Governor will depend in large part on how successfully Beauprez can keep Republican voters in the fold. Several Republican elected officials have endorsed the Democrat Ritter. If rank and file Republicans can come together and embrace Beauprez, they certainly will have a very decent chance of holding the office, especially considering that Ritter will always have to have some concern about his base holding over the abortion issue.

Ritter’s moderation though makes him a strong candidate in this state that leans Republican. There are many incidences of Governors of one particular party being elected and in fact being quite popular in states that almost always vote for the other party in federal races. For these reasons, Ritter might be able to end eight years of Republican leadership in the Governor’s office. If the election were held today, that would probably even be the case.

However, this is likely to be a tossup race heading into the homestretch. If Beauprez is able to capitalize on the recent Gubernatorial voting history of the state, the current attention being played in Colorado to the state government’s response to illegal immigration, some political assistance on the behalf of Governor Owens, and picking up the votes of undecided voters at the end (which is what happened for the Republican incumbent in what was believed to be a tossup U.S. Senate race in 2002), the Republicans may be able to barely hang on in the Rocky Mountain State.

Beauprez campaign link:

2006 Governor Races predicted thus far: 2D, 4R

Number of post-election Governors predicted thus far: 10 D, 10 R