Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Colorado Remains a Battleground

Expect to see President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly over the next year and half. Obama has been here twice – first for his high-profile signing of the stimulus bill in mid-August to defend his embattled health care proposal. Colorado has retained its battleground status, and likely will be gridlocked with top Democrats and Republicans trying to win the surprisingly competitive gubernatorial and senate races. Toss in a tough race for the new Democratic incumbent in the Republican-leaning 4th Congressional seat, and Colorado has one of each of the top political offices in play.

The level of competition is a bit of a surprise. The state has been trending blue for half a decade, with nearly every top job held by a Democrat. Obama broke a 44-year political record by not only winning the state, but by winning it by more than his national margin (Johnson beat Goldwater in 1964 by more than his national margin).

Governor Bill Ritter is probably the most vulnerable of the three officeholders. A year ago, he was described as vulnerable, now he is taking fire from an aggressive opposition. Many of his initiatives, such as an increase in the severance tax, were derailed by an obstinate electorate, others were drained of momentum by long task force processes reflecting a lack of consensus, and some recent legislative victories have been defunded by the collapse of tax revenue they need.

After a 17-percentage point win in 2006 and a long honeymoon with approval ratings above 60 percent, the date that marks Ritter’s decline is Friday, November 2, 2007, when he encouraged the unionization of state employees with late Friday afternoon executive order – it wasn’t missed by the state’s business and political community.

The irony is that Ritter’s most recent vetoes of pro-labor legislation has gained him little business support – his re-election fundraising is weak – and the active enmity of major elements of organized labor. It remains to be seen if the Republicans can nominate a strong candidate and mount a sophisticated campaign. But, if they do, Ritter is in trouble.

In a July 23, 2008 “Speakout” in the former Rocky Mountain News, Ritter was described as in trouble due to not meeting high expectations. His inaugural theme was about the “Colorado Promise.” Although he is a hard-working governor and mostly stays on message, he seems a bit like an accidental governor with no large base or natural feel for the politics of the job.

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