Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Race of the Day- Colorado U.S. Senate

91 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

Six months ago, nobody expected much of a contest in the Centennial State. Republicans have been thrilled though by the turn of events that produce a top notch candidate as their nominee and polling data and conventional wisdom in this midterm election indicate a tossup race. If Republicans win here in November, they will have certainly taken over control of the Senate and likely were the benefactors of a wave election throughout most parts of the country. By the time it is over, I hope to be able to say that this is going to be a GOP pickup. It is definitely a possibility, but all things considered, including the recent electoral history of the state, and the difficulty of a challenger beating an incumbent, I still have to give the smallest of edges to the Democrat incumbent.

Mark Udall comes from one of the most prominent and well known political families in the American West. In 1998, both Mark and his New Mexico cousin Tom Udall were elected to the U.S. House. A decade later, both men won Senate seats in what was a strong Democrat year. Now, both are facing reelection, but Mark is having the more difficult time of the two cousins in his Colorado campaign. While Udall's brand of liberalism might have been in line with the electorate of his state in 2008, the people who will show up for this midterm just may be a lot more conservative and more in the mood to dump an incumbent. It also happens that Udall is facing a much stronger opponent than he did six years ago.

Congressman Cory Gardner has been talked about as a rising star in Washington D.C. since he arrived in 2011, after defeating a Democrat incumbent in a midterm election. Not yet 40 years old, it had been assumed by most that Gardner would one day run statewide, but he early took himself out of consideration for the 2014 Senate contest against Udall. That seemed to make sense, as Gardner had a safe House seat and certainly was young enough to wait for a better opportunity, rather than risking it to run against an incumbent who would surely been favored. A handful of GOP candidates entered the contest and with the political mood emerging, Udall looked slightly vulnerable, but nobody expected that he could be defeated by anybody in the race.

Thus, it came as a huge surprise in late February, when seemingly out of nowhere, Gardner reversed course and entered the Senate race. Surely, there must have been some sort of private polling which gave him the push to gamble his electoral future on the contest. Almost immediately, some of the Republican candidates dropped out of the race in favor of Gardner, including Ken Buck, who had been leading the 2014 primary polls. Buck was the party's Senate nominee in 2010, but lost a very winnable race, after some inflammatory comments and positions. Party insiders feared he could be nominated again, but would not have a real chance against Udall. However, Buck left the Senate race rather than face Gardner in a primary and entered a race for Congress in a heavily Republican district, and is now the nominee there. Perhaps, a deal was cut with Buck, but that is how politics works. A couple other Republicans stayed in the race, but were eliminated at the state party assembly. Colorado Republicans clearly were focused on victory and had united behind Gardner.

This has been and will continue to be an expensive and intense battle in a key national swing state. Money from all over the country will flow in for both candidates, as well as high-profile surrogates. The polls have been very close, although Udall has held a slight lead in some. Realistically, this is probably a one or two point contest that could go in favor of either candidate right now.  It has the potential to be the closest Senate race in the country after Election Day.

As I mentioned yesterday in discussing the Gubernatorial race, Democrats have won ever race for Governor or Senate there over the past decade. However, none of the Republican candidates seemed to have the political potential of Gardner. Democrats feel it is imperative to paint him as a right-wing extremist and have been making a lot of hay over a Personhood Amendment he supported in his state. Gardner, who remains Pro-Life, has now said he does not support that particular measure. He has also had to insist that he does not oppose birth control, as Udall's campaign ads had suggested. Republicans counter by saying that Udall is practicing politics of desperation and fear in order to hold on to his job and that he is a do nothing Senator who has simply been a rubber stamp for Barack Obama.

This year, there have been a lot of polls for all sorts of races showing the potential of Republicans making a rebound in Colorado after several years of disappointments and lost opportunities.The GOP certainly has had some luck already this year in recruiting late entrants in the big races for Governor and U.S. Senate. Just their presence on the ballot, over whom might have otherwise been nominated in those races, is a plus for the whole party's fortunes. I think the Governor's race is close, and the Senate race will be even closer. If a big wave is coming, Udall of Colorado is going to be swept out with it, and Gardner's big political risk will have paid off. There still needs to be some more evidence and some more time before I can forecast that though.

Gardner campaign link:


Senate races predicted thus far: 1 D (1 Tossup), 3 R (1 Safe, 1 Leans, 1 Tossup)
Overall predicted thus far: 35 D, 33 R (net Republican gain of 2)