Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Colorado Politics: Is Michael Bennet Safe or is 2022 an Upset Year?

Senators Mark Udall (R) and Michael Bennet (C) stand with
then Gov. John Hickenlooper during event at State Capitol,
Denver, March 14, 2014 | Brennan Linsley/AP
Is Colorado a safe state for Democrats or will 2022 be like Barack Obama’s and Donald Trump’s first midterms – a backlash? It was in 2010 when the Democrats lost the House of Representatives and 2018 when it swung back to them. 

Michal Bennet is up for his second reelection in 2022, which could be a difficult year for Democrats since the Senate has historically resisted national party-wide trends, but it has become much more susceptible in recent times. The general view is that Colorado has shifted “blue” in the last half decade; it will be safe for Bennet, even without the highly unpopular Donald Trump on the ballot. And, early polling will help set the stage, but just examining the recent history of federal races in Colorado highlights the Democratic advantage, except for Cory Gardner’s close 2014 race. Since 2004, they have won them all.

Bennet, as of yet, has not been a big vote-getter, winning initially in 2010 by 2 points and by only 4 in a Democratic presidential year in 2016 against what many saw as a weak Republican candidate. But what constitutes the Republican bench in 2020? Will the Republicans follow the Democrats’ model and try to find and nominate candidates for the general election ? Or, will their primary produce a narrow factional leader unacceptable to the wider electorate?

Read The Buzz: Colorado Politics: Dems Circle Overhead, Eyeing Colorado’s Cory Gardner as Their Prey

Colorado: A Model Voting System – One of the Nation’s Highest Turnouts

Colorado’s mail-back voting system, established in 2013, has now successfully managed four federal elections starting in 2014, including two presidential elections in 2016 and 2020, with record turnout.

Colorado is historically among a handful of states with the highest level of voter turnout. Often the same states are at or near the top – Minnesota at 80 percent of its eligible population voting, Maine was 79 percent and Colorado 76 percent. Many of the worst turnout states are regularly at the bottom, such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas (source: U.S. Elections Project).

Colorado’s 3.3 million votes was a half a million vote increase since the last presidential election. Democratic registrants exceeded Republicans by 81,000, but unaffiliated voters dominated both parties by more than 200,000.

The 86 percent of registered voters participating in the 2020 Colorado election, joined a national record turnout of 159 million counted on November 20. That represents a 20 million vote increase since the 139 million voted in 2016.

The Trump campaign added nearly 11 million more voters than he received in 2016, but Biden exceeded that with 14 million from a nearly 3 million vote higher base, leading to his 6 million popular vote advantage (very similar votes went to third parties in 2016).

Monday, November 23, 2020

Trump and Boebert Win the Third CD

Lauren Boebert attended the White House nomination speech of President Trump and his recent D.C. rally to fight what Trump fans believe is the great election steal.

Lauren Boebert speaks at "Million MAGA March" in 
Washington D.C., Nov. 14, 2020 | YouTube screenshot

BOEBERT: That’s why we are here today. To sand for the constitution! To stand for freedom! To stand for President Donald J. Trump and the American Dream! God bless you all, thank you all so much for being out here today, for standing with President Trump as he has helped so many people like me in their races. How he has helped so many people like you and keeping the American Dream alive. This is about our children, and our children’s children and generations to come!

Her loyalty to Trump is reflected in the loyalty of Trump voters to her. Their totals in the Third Congressional District nearly match – if you voted for Trump, you voted for Boebert.

Read: Colorado Pols – No Surprise: Lauren Boebert Fronts Colorado GOP MAGA Denial

Record Turnout: Unaffiliated Dominant Voter Bloc

Unaffiliated voters, who already is the largest group among registered voters, have upped their turnout rate and were the largest bloc of voters on Election Day. They casted 261,000 more votes than Democrats and had 342,000 more identifiers than Republicans.

Colorado Republicans face a significant challenge with unaffiliated voters to win statewide. They will need more than half to support them, and as the November 3rd results reflect, they are falling far short of that goal. Republicans lost both statewide federal races with President Trump receiving 42 percent vs. Joe Biden’s 55 percent and Senator Cory Gardner received 44 percent to John Hickenlooper’s 53.5 percent.

If approximately 95 percent of party identifiers remain loyal, Republicans must win more than half of the unaffiliated votes, or about 53 percent, or more than 683,000 unaffiliated voters. In fact, the final result between Gardner and John Hickenlooper showed Gardner received only 41 percent of the unaffiliated and Trump about 36 percent. Republicans cannot win statewide in Colorado without addressing the new political reality.

Sen. Cory Gardner speaks during a campaign rally for
President Trump, Feb. 20, 2020 | Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Democrats Hoped for a Sweep, But Republicans Held and Expanded Seats Below Trump

Polls had raised Democrats expectations that, along with a “Biden win,” they could achieve a “blue wave,” producing a Senate majority by winning three seats, adding House members and taking control of several state legislatures that will conduct redistricting in 2021. Except for Joe Biden making President-elect, the wave was barely a ripple.

In the Senate, two seats were added in Arizona and Colorado, but an Alabama incumbent was defeated. And, a number of seats where Democrats had strong early polling and huge war chests were lost, including in Iowa, Maine and North Carolina. Due to runoffs, two seats in Georgia will be decided on January 5, 2021, but it is very difficult to win one, much less the two needed for Senate control.

Nancy Pelosi suffered a House defeat that snuck up on its optimistic political operatives and pollsters. The nationwide generic polls were plus 7 on Election Day, the same as November 2018 when Democrats swept suburban districts and won the House.

The final national polls had the race with Biden at 51 percent, which is what he received, and Trump at 44 percent. He closed to 47 percent with his late campaign rallies attracting a surge of voters, many of whom had been undecided earlier. They weren’t enough to save Trump in the six states he lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016 (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), but analysts and pollsters believe they helped in the five battleground states he carried at the senate, congressional and state level. Also, Republican and 2016 Trump voters who switched to Biden returned to the party for lower level races.

Democrats almost lost control of the House and maintaining discipline will be much more difficult with a narrow margin (see chart above). The defeat immediately led to finger-pointing and public friction among party moderates and liberal activists. Democrats know the danger of the first midterm election in a new presidency. Pelosi lost her majority in 2010 to the first-term Obama backlash from the Tea Party and over health care reform.

The success of Republicans extended to the state legislators Democrats had targeted for pick-ups to get more competitive in 2021 state-level redistricting after the census data is delivered. Democrats raised $100 million to ride the blue wave to win a host of legislative chambers (Republicans had $70 million). As of the final counting, they haven’t won a single chamber after targeting chambers in a host of states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Hickenlooper: Lucky or Colorado’s Most Formidable Politician or Both?

A debate on John Hickenlooper’s extraordinary career was launched when I observed he had some great luck in his long run that has propelled him from a restaurant owner to the U.S. Senate, especially when the next step wasn’t clear. As he neared the end of his term as Denver mayor, Governor Bill Ritter dropped out of running for a second term, handing it to Hickenlooper without a primary, who then faced a self-destructing Republican Party with Tom Tancredo, an independent, and Dan Maes, an unknown Republican nominee. After a failed and mostly ignored run for president, Hickenlooper was handed the frontrunner position in the Senate nomination and election in a very good Democratic year.

Hickenlooper has demonstrated his resilience and the strength of his Colorado reputation in the face of a multi-million dollar onslaught of attack advertising. And, he showed persistence on staying with his strategy of low engagement with Cory Gardner and focusing on health care with attacks on Gardner’s and Trump’s relationship. But 2020 will be seen as the year of the anti-Trump moderate in Colorado, and Hickenlooper was out of work at the right time in the right place.

His friend, Alan Salazar, says: “I think you make your luck.” Hickenlooper’s exceptional run since 2003 has both luck and talent. And regardless if mostly luck or talent, John Hickenlooper is likely to be representing Colorado for a very long time.

Read: John Hickenlooper’s Lucky Streak Continues

Newly elected to Colorado Senate, John Hickenlooper |
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

National Interest, Out-of-State Money and a Mixed Message

Of the eleven ballot issues, Colorado voters passed nearly all, and the result will be seen as more on the liberal than conservative side. But, the result was mixed. In two votes, more conservative fiscal forces won (lower the income tax and putting state fees under TABOR). But, the election also raised taxes on nicotine and homeowners with the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment. Also, paid leave will be a major expense for both workers and employers.

Some of the major trends were:

  • COVID-19 did not appear a deterrent to getting many initiatives on the ballot. Historically, eleven proposals make up a full ballot.
  • There were several significant out-of-state interest groups involved in Colorado ballot campaigns (e.g., Popular Vote, Abortion Limits, Paid Leave)
  • Significant out-of-state money flowed to several proposals
  • 2020 was a good year for the more liberal side of issues, but some close votes on both sides (Popular Vote 52%, Gray Wolves 51, Fees 52%)
  • Colorado likes sin taxes (Nicotine 67%) and gaming (Gaming Limits 60%) (if limited to 3 cities)
  • 2020 was a good year for “paid leave” (58%). It could argue it was relevant to both health care and economic help for workers.
  • The Governor’s support was mostly positive. He took 5 positions and won 4.
  • Gallagher repeal was a success for local government support (fire fighters) combined with both liberal- and business-desired tax reforms. It represents a small step in untying Colorado’s fiscal knot.
  • As TABOR in 1992 demonstrated, direct democracy can have major impact on state’s operations and finances