Thursday, July 30, 2020

Race of the Day- Colorado U.S. Senate

Colorado U.S. Senate

96 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Leans Democrat

A very satisfying Republican pickup in 2014 is now looking like the political pendulum may be swinging back to the other side in a very purple state that is becoming more blue.

Six years ago, Cory Gardner, a young Republican Congressman from the rural part of the state was recruited to run for the Senate against incumbent Democrat Mark Udall. The feeling was that Udall would have little trouble dispatching the other Republicans that wanted to run against him, but that Gardner was politically skilled enough to give him a real race. At first, the Republican said he intended to remain in his safe House seat, but apparently some statewide polling data gave him the impetus to jump into the contest against Udall fairly late in the game. The Republican Party largely cleared the field and a top battleground race unfolded. Udall tried to paint Gardner as "anti-woman" and ran heavily on wedge cultural issues.The voters seemed to care more about the economy than abortion though in many states that cycle and Udall was criticized for being too single minded in his attacks. On Election Night, Gardner did what he did to win his House seat as well, defeating an incumbent Democrat, this time by a 48-46 margin.

Gardner's political future looked bright but like many mainstream Republicans in competitive states and districts, he would soon have Donald Trump on his hands to deal with. At times, Senator Gardner has taken issue with Trump on some policy matters and during national firestorms, such as the reaction to the riots in Charlottesville, but mostly he has supported the President's position on issues and has been careful not to run too afoul of the MAGA people in the party.

Considering the fact that Colorado has trended Democrat in recent years, even somewhat before Trump came along, many in the party felt that they could make Gardner a one term Senator. A slew of Democrats lined up to oppose him, just like many Republicans had wanted to take on Gardner. The Colorado election process has a complex system of caucuses and straw polls and conventions, and many felt the whole thing could become a mess and help Gardner by the time an eventual winner emerged. Much like the desire to recruit the now incumbent into the race by Republicans six years ago, Democrats also wanted to clear the field for a reluctant politician who would be their strongest best.

John Hickenlooper has always been an executive and did not seem keen over the prospects of serving in a deliberative body. He went from being an entrepreneur and business executive to Mayor of Denver to the two term Governor of Colorado. After being term limited out of that office, "Hick" sent his sights on the White House. The former Governor announced in March of 2019 that he would seek the Democrat nomination for President. The field was massive though and Hickenlooper was perhaps seen as too moderate, too white, and too non-dynamic to be a real factor. Many of the people he would have counted on for support were on board with Joe Biden. Furthermore, one of Colorado's Senators was also running for the nomination, but he had some of the same problems as Hickenlooper.

So, many in the party nationally though that perhaps Hickenlooper and fellow candidate Michael Bennet should serve in the Senate together from Colorado. Going nowhere in the Presidential race, the former Governor withdrew by August and immediately it was clear that a deal had been worked out where Hickenlooper would run for the Senate. This excited Democrats nationally and like the situation for Gardner six years ago, the field was largely cleared for him.

Still, he faced a primary against a candidate more popular with liberal activists. Andrew Romanoff was a former State House Speaker (before Hickenlooper was Governor) and had sought the party's nomination for the Senate in 2010 against the then appointed Bennet. In 2014, he also lost a competitive Congressional general election. Hickenlooper was first expected to win easily, but seemingly ran into problems in the latter stages of the primary when video clips emerged from a past statement where he lamely had joked about slavery and was had to apologize. Furthermore, the frontrunner came under fire for ethics violations when he was Governor involving gifts. Hickenlooper called the allegations a "smear" and at first refused to cooperate with the commission, but after the ethics commission was about to hold him in contempt, he testified and ultimately had to pay a fine.

At this time, many on the right thought that Hickenlooper's Senate campaign was perhaps permanently damaged or that he might lose the primary. Some wondered whether it would be better for Gardner to face Romanoff instead or a weakened Hickenlooper. However, he won the June primary by a wider than expected 59-41 margin. Clearly, enough Colorado Democrats were unconcerned about these problems. Hickenlooper has mostly been a well liked Governor and the motivation was high to vote in November against a GOP incumbent.

I think this race is not a done deal, but the polls have shown a lead for Hickenlooper. Gardner is a skilled politician and might try to make hay by hammering away at Hickenlooper's recent ethical woes and the Republican will certainly do well in the conservative areas of the state. However, Colorado also has very liberal Denver and some other left-leaning bastions. The once Republican leaning suburban areas, like many other similar ones throughout the country have turned away from Trump and his party. Right now, in this election year, that seems like it could be enough.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

2 D (2 Lean) 
3 R (1 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Lean)

Total with predictions thus far:

37 Democrats (35 holdovers, 2 Lean)
33 Republicans (30 holdovers, 1 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Lean)


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