Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Balance of Power – Coffman and Perlmutter

9KUSA’s Brandon Rittman had Congressmen Mike Coffman and Ed Perlmutter describe the incompetence that drove the VA hospital from $600 million to $1.7 billion.

If Senator Michael Bennet gets the nod for Democratic vice president, Rittman may have provided a preview of the 2016 senate race: Coffman vs. Perlmutter.

L to R: Rep. Mike Coffman, Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Brandon Rittiman
Photo: 9 KUSA

Harry Reid is Out; Bennet is Up

Democrats want to win back the U.S. Senate in 2016, but they need to hold two seats while winning five. It just got harder to hold Nevada. Harry Reid, after 30 years, has quit.

Reid was going to be in a very tough re-election, and now it’s an open seat.

Reid’s retirement reflects that difficult re-election, his recent health problems and the loss of the majority, substantially due to years of his partisan obstruction. Nearly every Republican running in 2014 ran against Harry Reid’s senate leadership

Michael Bennet will now be the Democratic senator most endangered. Will the Nevada change motivate a strong Colorado Republican to get into the race? The D.C. super PAC believes Bennet can be beaten, but it will take a very good candidate. With the exception of Mark Udall’s 11-point win in 2008, Colorado senate races have been won by 5 points or less.

California Ready for Marijuana?

Mark Baldassare, one of California’s best opinion researchers and head of the foundation-supported think tank, Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), published his latest poll showing 53 percent of Californians believe that marijuana should be legal, the highest reported percentage in the last five years (2010). Among likely voters, 55 percent favored legalization, which is the percentage it passed by in Colorado in 2012. Numerous advocates and entrepreneurs are attempting to get a recreational marijuana proposal on the California ballot in 2016. Legal marijuana was defeated in California in 2010 and Governor Jerry Brown remains skeptical.

California Gov. Jerry Brown
The PPIC poll also showed:
  • Gov. Brown has a 55% approval rating after his easy November re-election – about 10 points higher than President Obama’s national approval, but the same as his California approval.
  • The public hasn’t bought off on the Governor’s $68 billion high-speed rail project, only 47% favor it and 48% oppose it.
  • To get more state funding, 52% support the university system capping tuition, a Brown position, with only 18% saying give the UC money even if they raise tuition. Twenty-seven percent wouldn’t give them any more money period.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Iranian Agreement – Produce It, Then Sell It

The administration is responsible for both the substance and the politics of the Iranian nuclear negotiations. The deal will have a series of critical terms and compliance metrics that various experts and interest groups will weigh in on. Elite opinion will be critical as the deal’s elements unfold. It is unlikely to receive overwhelming acclaim or condemnation. And, there will be follow-up and aftershocks. The following is a brief review of some of the stakeholders and the current American public opinion environment.

American Public

A majority of the public could support a deal, but it will need to appear credible on its face and have substantial elite and interest group support.
  • Terrorism moved up on list of major public concerns in 2014.
  • Iran has had slight image improvement, but still near top of enemy list with Russia and North Korea. Very little trust.
  • Public supports negotiations, but not convinced they can stop Iran bomb making intent.
  • Sees Iran with a bomb as a threat and will support military action.

Democratic Party’s Stressful Support Hillary Clinton

The Democratic Party establishment and rank and file support Hillary Clinton’s nomination. But, as the recent e-mail controversy highlights, it’s not without its stress.  Hillary Clinton comes with baggage:
  • She and her husband have been involved in various controversies, many of their own initiation, some not, since their entry into national consciousness in 1992.
  • Hillary escaped the Clinton zeitgeist as Secretary of State, but her re-entry into partisan politics has been weak.
    • Claims of financial hardship,
    • Hundreds of thousands in speaker fees,
    • Big foundation salaries from CGI,
    • Solicitations from the mega rich and foreign governments for CGI,
    • And, her conducting public business on a private communication system
Hillary Clinton
But, the Democratic Party has few alternatives and many reasons to ride with Clinton regardless of any doubts.
  • The Party’s identity politics has prioritized a women president. Powerful Senate and House feminist leaders will not be denied their turn – Pelosi, Boxer, Mikulski, etc. nearing or at their retirement – intend on securing the nomination for Clinton.
  • Clinton has earned Democratic support for more than two decades of service on women and liberal issues.
  • She got 48 percent against Obama and, but for some bad luck and an inept campaign, would have been the nominee and president in 2008.
  • A Democratic third term will be difficult. But Clinton is not just most likely the best candidate, she may be the only plausible candidate – Biden and Kerry are even more burdened by their relationship with Obama. Gore would be a Democratic nightmare. The ambitious Warren and O’Malley are unknown, untested, and mostly far left in an election that is unlikely to move to the left of Barack Obama.
So regardless of baggage and a stumbling start, Democrats are hard-pressed to not be “ready for Hillary.”

Ciruli Has 3,000 Followers

In Russia, when a blogger attracts 3,000 or more regular viewers, they become a potential threat to the state. In America, we celebrate it and issue a press release.  When The Buzz began in 2008, it was the continuation of a political website started in 2000 at a time when George W. Bush was carrying Colorado during the Republican dominance of the state.

The first blog post began a discussion of “the factors that led to the beginning of what may be a Democratic era” (posted Dec. 22, 2008). That first year there were only six postings, but as political events locally and globally have heated up, the number has gone up every year since – nearly topping 300 in 2014.

As of March 23, 2015, we’d posted 60 analyses so far this year, and they are now shared with more than 3,000 followers on Facebook and elsewhere.

Reading through the six years of headlines provides a political history of an extraordinary period in contemporary Colorado politics. Colorado has become a swing state with all the excitement and attention it brings. It’s been an incredible seven-year run of interesting politics as Colorado has risen to an unprecedented position of political power.

Welcome to all the friends, readers, re-tweeters and commenters.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fracking Still a Problem for Democrats

Americans are divided over hydraulic fracturing. The latest Gallup poll shows 40 percent favor the process and 40 percent oppose it. The parties are polarized, with 66 percent of Republicans supporting it but only 26 percent of Democrats. More than half of Democrats oppose it (54%), but only 20 percent of Republicans.

The problem for Democrats is that their leadership does not agree with the rank and file. They favor it. The most dramatic example of the disconnect was last summer and fall when Colorado Democratic leaders, led by Governor Hickenlooper, strongly opposed ballot initiatives seen as fracking bans.

Very likely if one or more anti-fracking initiatives were proposed in 2016, Democratic leaders would again oppose them. They are currently attempting to design compromises that will address the issues of many opponents. But, given the public division and extreme anti-hydrocarbon advocacy groups in- and out-of-state, it seems unlikely a compromise is possible or a ballot issue can be avoided.

Iranian-U.S. Deal Days Away

The betting is that the Obama administration will declare a deal with Iran by March 31, even if it is a very rickety “framework.” After resets with Russia, Red Lines with Syria, a decimated al Qaeda and a “JV” Isis, the administration has run out of friends who will excuse errors or opportunities to declare big wins 21 months before departure – This is it!

The administration has been busy countering opposition, especially from Israel and Republicans, and applying carrots and steaks with Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a special problem for the administration. His audacious and high-profile speech, with the administration’s petulance helping heighten it’s visibility and drama, was a major blow. And, Obama’s clear hostility to Netanyahu’s re-election and now “reassessment” of the relationship indicates just how important the Iranian deal is to him and the Israeli relationship is not.

It’s questionable if Obama can on his own reassess or rearrange the alliance with Israel. The New York and California Democratic delegations will, along with the establishment of the party, have views on that. But it is useful carrot for Iran. And the Senate’s insistence on reviewing the agreement can be considered a stick. Sanctions are not going away without a generally perceived good deal.

Since it still appears Iran wants this deal, expect late movement to provide sufficient justification for a round of drinks in Lausanne.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Obama Goes All In – Stress for Former New York Senator

President Obama is forcing the American Jewish community to pick sides. Go with their historic allegiance with the Democratic Party and their liberal values or support their Zionist sentiments and the newly re-elected Likud government.
Hillary Clinton

If the elite conversation is an accurate referent, Democrats will hold their majority, but Speaker Boehner and the Republicans may get a bigger share of Jewish supporters then they have had in recent years. New York politicians, including former Senator Hillary Clinton, are going to be hard-pressed to show their difference with Obama’s war-like stance toward Prime Minister Netanyahu. The passion of the administration’s response reinforces the observation that the White House is better at opposing former allies than old enemies.

Bibi is Back; Democrats Not Happy

Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist campaign prevailed in a close race that appeared to be trending
Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu
away from him the last week. Netanyahu went into full campaign mode, telling his Likud voters that all was lost unless they turn out. He shifted to the right in rejecting a two-state solution and warning that Arab voter turnout was a threat.

By 9:00 pm (MST), it was clear the final polls and the exit polls were wrong. Bibi was going to win a four-to-six seat victory over the center left Zionist Union Party.

Most U.S. media outlets, from New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, to CNN and Fox, stayed with the exit polls even though Wikipedia had a live feed, which by 8:00 pm (MST) showed Likud with 24 percent of the vote (they ended up with 23.2% compared to 18.7% for the Zionist Union).

Democrats, from President Obama to Secretary of State Kerry to Minority Leader Pelosi, aren’t happy. Obama and the administration now have an even tougher opponent. Not only did Netanyahu accuse the administration of working against him (i.e., opponents in the West financing his local opposition), but he moved to the right as he apparently secured a stronger coalition. All conditions unlikely to generate a rapprochement.

Polling in multi-party races with the top two parties receiving less than half the vote means that simple margin of error, much less any specific polling flaws, accounts for much of the variation. In addition, while Jewish voters have a philosophical disposition, their parties tend to come and go; i.e., party loyalty is less a factor and a less useful predicator.

Exit pollsters specifically mentioned the low cooperation from what appeared to be more conservative voters and the fact they quit polling early as explaining some of their failure to catch the Likud surge.

Most interesting was the strategic voting driven by polling. The polls clearly motivated Netanyahu and Likud strategists to switch from appearing as frontrunner to likely losers. The goal being to draw other conservative parties’ votes to Likud. Also, many individual voters seeing the late polls showing the Zionist Union winning independently decided to support Likud to put them over the top. Evidence for this came from media interviews with voters.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

City Council Forum Spotlights Some Differences

The five candidates running for District 10 city council did well at a recent forum, sponsored by Cherry Creek business community. They stayed within the time limits, of which a couple of rounds were one-minute answers, and they had well-thought-out answers to the basic business area questions of parking, traffic and growth.

Chris Chiari
Anna Jones
Travis Leiker
Wayne New
Chris Cornell Wedor
As a district that centers on Capitol Hill and runs from County Club to Colfax, perspectives are mostly left of center to far left on socio-economic issues, but seemingly more moderate on jobs and growth.
The growth issue mostly elicited generic statements about balance, but there is little doubt these candidates are hearing complaints about congestion, density and rapid development. However, in the heart of the District’s business community, they low-keyed the “us vs. them” rhetoric heard in some forums.
It was the two one-minute questions that elicited some of the most insight for business-oriented voters. The candidates were asked about raising the minimum wage and possibly setting it at the Seattle rate of $15.00. If it can be raised, these candidates are raising it, and one candidate believes $15.00 is acceptable. There was no reference to trade-offs with jobs or competition with suburbs or other metro areas.
Marijuana commercialization did highlight some differences, and the sharpest and most aggressive response of the session. Generally, views ranged from concern (impact on children) to aforementioned passionate defense.
Contrary to the Democratic legislative leadership, this group of aspiring Denver officeholders would support the construction defects bill. They see the current law as an impediment to building affordable housing
District 10 will be represented by a very articulate councilperson, regardless of who wins.
  • An aggressive anti-growth bias was not expressed – it may have been masked – every candidate expressed recognition of the city’s economic strengths and Cherry Creek’s contribution to it.
  • The “economic justice” argument and the policies that operationalize it; e.g., minimum wage, living wage, etc., is accepted with few doubts, reservations or concerns expressed about trade-offs.
  • Marijuana has its advocates, but there is caution. The industry may be at a point beyond repeal, but its commercial path will not be without resistance.
It’s possible District 10 will be the election’s most expensive race, doubling or more the current $250,000 of total contributions.

Chicago – Mayoral Election April 7

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will win a substantial re-election victory against Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in the April 7 runoff unless there is a major change in voter sentiment captured by recent polls.

A local pollster, Ogden and Fry, use no undecided option in some versions, and has Emanuel running at least 10 points ahead, at or above 50 percent with more than 15 percent of voters claiming to be undecided.

Emanuel wanted to avoid a runoff, but he fell short of the 50 percent needed at the Feb. 24 runoff (46%) and Garcia came in second with 34 percent.

The runoff itself was unprecedented for an incumbent Chicago mayor and a product of some local issues: Emanuel is not an easy politician to like, the teachers union fighting budget cuts and the general austerity associated with balancing budgets in big cities. But, national liberal forces and union groups thought they could use another municipal election, like New York, to take control, or at least redirect, the Democratic Party. They appear to have failed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Elections in 2015

There are a host of elections in 2015 that could have significant effect on foreign affairs and the world economy.
  • Stress in the EU –Greek election in January goes to anti-austerity far left. It may begin the disassembling of the great European experiment in unity.
  • The Island – Great Britain is losing its two-party tradition. Scottish separatists and anti-EU and anti-immigration parties may have veto.
  • Middle East – Israel extends Prime Minister Netanyahu’s mandate. But, Israel’s position is becoming more tenuous due to world opinion support for a Palestinian state.
  • Africa – Nigeria, an important but fragmented country, delays its February election to March 28 due to security issues. President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Nigerian Christian, runs for re-election in a divided country with an active insurgency.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Letter was Mistake, But White House on Defensive Over Iran

The general rule is don’t sign letters on nuclear negotiations from freshman senators addressed to Putin, Xi Jinping or the Supreme Leader. Unfortunately, the old rule that freshmen should be seen and not heard and only give a maiden speech after several months has gone by the boards among Gen Xers and the appetite of cable and online news.

The Iran letter from 47 Republican senators, including the majority leader, has been widely panned in newspaper editorial pages. The Wall Street Journal, which shares the Republicans’ skepticism for the Obama administration’s negotiating premise and prowess, called the letter a distraction. Indeed, it has provided the administration and its main spokespersons, Joe Biden and John Kerry, an opportunity to make the case that Republicans and the Senate shouldn’t be included in the final approval process because of their hostile predisposition and “unprecedented partisanship.”

And a recent CNN poll appears to show that the administration has the stronger position in this exchange. A near majority felt the letter went “too far,” not surprising given the torrent of criticism, but more important for Republican leadership is the fact people generally support negotiations to keep Iran from nuclear weapons (68%).

But, Republicans shouldn’t lose heart. The public supports the Republican viewpoint on these negotiations and their view of President Obama’s foreign policy approach and prowess has declined sharply in recent years. Recent Pew Research shows:
  • The President’s job approval for foreign policy is 7 points lower than his overall approval (45% overall; 38% foreign policy).
  • Republicans are now preferred by 13 points over Democrats on foreign policy and, most importantly, 20 points in handling terrorism. (Note: The latest CNN poll claims an 8-point Obama advantage, but that’s not Democrats vs. Republicans.)
  • Importantly, the public believes the President’s international strategy is weak (55% weak, up from 38% in 2009). (See March 6 blog: Obama foreign policy under fire)
But most ominous for the administration attempting to unilaterally negotiate with Iran is not just its weak foreign policy credentials, but the fact the public believes the administration’s major assumption of nuclear weapon-free Iran is unachievable. By 71 percent, they believe Iran will get a bomb. And, Iran is near the top of Americans’ list as an enemy. In other words, if Republicans can appear to be serious players in foreign policy, they have the stronger overall position.

See Washington Examiner: Despite beltway blowback, GOP sees win in Iran letter

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ciruli and Wadhams on Republican State Party Chair Change

Associated Press political writer Nick Riccardi points out Ryan Call lost his job as Republican State Chair in spite of leading the party in a very strong year after a series of defeats and with a host of endorsements from Republican officeholders.

But, as Dick Wadhams pointed out, there’s an inverse relationship to the importance of parties in the major races and the level of infighting. As money has increasingly come from independent and out-of-state sources, the infighting among party factions with diminished clout grows.

My point was that the victory of Cory Gardner in the senate race was largely a function of major national party players joining with the local establishment to clear the field, including Tea Party factions and other local interest groups. Beating Michael Bennet will be even tougher, and the party establishment will be an essential ingredient in a successful campaign.

See AP: Ouster of Colorado GOP chairman show fissures remain

Dick Wadhams (L) and Ryan Call (R)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Denver City Council Forum – District 10 Cherry Creek

On March 18, Cherry Creek’s business community will sponsor a forum for the five candidates in District 10, currently represented by term-limited Jeanne Robb, widely regarded as a very hard working and dedicated councilperson.

All five candidates in District 10 have raised sufficient money to at least show some level of support.

As of early March, the race has attracted more than $250,000, making it the city’s richest so far. The money will likely double before the May 5 first round.

Major issues in the race are the rapid growth of commercial and residential building in the Cherry Creek area, parking, traffic, and general city issues of marijuana commercialization, city employee unionization, minimum wage increases and police-civilian relations.

It should be an enlightening forum.

Monday, March 16, 2015

9News Balance of Power: Enemies Foreign and Domestic?

9News Sunday morning public affairs show with political reporter Brandon Rittiman and news anchor Kyle Clark led into Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press with a Colorado-based discussion of the strength of ISIS, the letter by 47 Republicans to Iran’s Supreme leader and Hillary Clinton’s email imbroglio.

Joining the discussion were ambassador, now dean of Korbel School of International Studies at DU, Chris Hill; and 9News political analyst, Floyd Ciruli, also director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at DU.

See: 9News Balance of Power

Photo: 9News, Balance of Power

Friday, March 13, 2015

Obama’s Foreign Policy Era Coming to an End?

Although the annexation of the Crimea or the rise of ISIS did not have the immediacy of 9/11 on public opinion, together they have vitiated the Obama foreign policy of restraint.

President Obama was determined to end the George W. Bush foreign policy perceived as expansive, militaristic and arrogant. America under the Obama administration would withdraw from its active military engagements, launch negotiations and reposition with major adversaries – Russia and Iran – and stress a diplomacy first strategy. In general, American foreign policy would recognize limits, reject America’s exceptionalism and end an expansive foreign affairs cycle that began in the Reagan administration and continued through two Gulf wars, 9/11 and the War on Terror.

And, indeed, the administration has had success in implementing its strategy. They point out that Iraq and Afghanistan military commitments have ended, albeit with some late, and for the administration, unwelcome adjustments.  He led from behind in Libya and offered no follow-up and has mightily resisted engagement in Syria. The reset with Russia has been mostly a failure, but negotiations appear to be reaching an endpoint with Iran.

However, there is growing evidence that the President is losing the clout to control his foreign policy and, in particular, the era of restraint he ushered in is over. And not just among the Boston to D.C. foreign policy elites, but public opinion appears to be moving away from “leading from behind” to a more assertive position. Of course, the public shift is not happening without reservations concerning excessive and long-term commitments, but a shift from Obama’s and his national security team’s positions is nonetheless underway.
  • Clapper endorses arms for Ukraine. A substantial portion of Obama’s foreign policy leadership team now advocates arming the Ukraine government, including James Clapper, the administration’s head of National Intelligence. He joined newly installed Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, who made Ukraine a highlight of his confirmation. Ukrainian policy is especially under assault with a host of Democratic and Republican leaders advocating providing arming and training for Ukrainian troops. Numerous former ambassadors, current legislators and retired military leaders have joined in. In general, public opinion now gives the President low marks in fighting terrorism and foreign policy in general. Pew Research reports movement among the American public toward arming the Kiev government, although not yet a majority.
  • Criticism from top foreign policy leaders. Many Democrats who served in the administration have become critics. Leon Panetta, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates top the list of leaders who have criticized both general foreign policy leadership and specifics, especially in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
  • Republicans are now aggressive foreign policy critics of the President. The Netanyahu invitation and letter to Iranian leaders essentially claim a foreign policy partnership and major disagreement with the White House on the Iran negotiations. Republican congressional leaders and presidential candidates are daily criticizing the President’s foreign policy. They are even gingerly beginning to advance “boots on the ground” in the war against ISIS; however, the President, administration and its allies continue to oppose it. There are already a few thousand Americans advising and training in Iraq. Again, Pew Research reports that public opinion appears to be moving toward a more aggressive approach, but without a majority. However, more recent polls show majorities now support “boots on the ground,” albeit in limited numbers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Russia Moves Up and Iran Down as the Country We Most Love to Hate

Gallup released its world affairs poll (Feb. 8-11, 2015) asking Americans what country they consider to be the U.S.’s greatest enemy.

Russia, from a very low position of only 3 percent of the public identifying it as the greatest enemy in 2011, is now at the top of the list with 18 percent. Conversely, Iran, which was at the top in 2011 with a quarter (25%) of the public saying it was the greatest enemy, has dropped to 4th place behind China and North Korea with 9 percent of the public.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Colorado in Play: Gardner and Bennet as VP Possibilities – Rothenberg

Stuart Rothenberg and Nathan Gonzales publish one of Washington’s most dependable political blogs. Their March 5th blog post describes Colorado as one of the “Big Ten” states “that will select the next occupant of the White House.” In fact, Colorado may be near the middle of the pack and move out of play only if one party or the other takes a clear national lead.

The top ten states (listed from Obama’s best to worst)

Senators Michael Bennet (L) & Cory Gardner
New Hampshire
North Carolina

Similar to 2012, these are the most likely states to see the candidates and get the media attention in 2016.

There are always some surprises. States thought to be close may fall into one camp or the other during the year and new states become the final battlegrounds. If 2012 is the model, Republicans must carry North Carolina, Florida and Ohio and at least two more. Next in line is Virginia and Colorado.

It is not just Senator Michael Bennet that receives attention as a vice presidential nominee. Freshman Cory Gardner is also on VP lists of the “Great Mentioners,” both because of Colorado’s importance to assembling 270 electoral votes, but also Gardner’s 2014 win demonstrates the image and campaign savvy necessary for Republicans to win Big Ten states like Colorado.

“Successful Republicans in the Big Ten states tend to be conservatives who avoid the extremist label and can appeal to voters on both a personal and political level. They tend to be more optimistic and upbeat than some in their party, and they don’t make it easy for their opponents to demonize them.”

Democrats Question CU Scientist Who Dissents from “Climate Consensus”

A band of liberal Democratic U.S. congresspersons have launched an investigation of scientists who express reservations about various aspects of the current majority scientific views on global warming.

Unfortunately, the high-profile effort to discredit skeptical scientists and their work picked on a well-respected CU professor, Roger Pielke Jr.

CU and his professional associations have come to his defense as has the Denver Post.

The Washington Times article by Valerie Richardson (3-5-15) describes the controversy and quotes me from a 9KUSA interview:

“I think the Democrats, anytime you’re trying to enforce group-think or punish a professor for their scientific and legitimate views — and if you listen to this professor’s [views], they sound fairly reasonable, frankly — I think the Democrats look very bad on this,” Denver political analyst Floyd Ciruli said Sunday on KUSA-TV’s “Between the Lines” with Brandon Rittiman.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Denver Development

Denver has had a spectacular three years. The latest census data shows that there were nearly 50,000 new residents from 2010 to 2013, or an 8 percent increase. The population growth in the entire metro area was 170,000, or a 6 percent increase. The 7-county metro region’s sales tax was up 9 percent last year.

All this growth is a boom for Denver, possibly one of the nation’s most successful core cities. But, it has generated an anti-development and, in some cases, anti-business attitude, which is showing up at city planning meetings, letters to the editor and municipal politics.

Out of the six Denver City Council Districts open for new candidates due to term limits or job switches, several have anti-development candidates. Denver and its growth strategy may be in for a few tough years if the candidates win.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Obama Foreign Policy Under Fire

Foreign policy is moving to a top position in the early 2016 presidential contest and is likely to share the agenda with domestic issues in the fall debates.

Republican presidential candidates are excoriating the Obama administration for what they see as weakness in the President’s foreign policy leadership that also draws a contrast with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who served as his Secretary of State.
  • In mid-January, Pew Research asked Americans if Obama was “tough enough” on foreign policy. It displayed a 17-point increase since 2009 among the public not believing the President was “tough enough” (38% 2009 to 55% now). 89% of Republicans don’t believe he is “tough enough,” but even 35% of Democrats agree. (Pew Research. Jan. 14, 2015)
  • The most recent Pew poll shows the Republican Party with a 20% lead as the party to do a better job “dealing with the terrorist threat at home” and 13% lead over Democrats in “making wise decisions about foreign policy.” The poll highlights a 16-point shift to the Republican Party on the issue by independents. (Pew Research, Feb. 18-22, 2015)
  • In the presidential race, the most repeated attack line at the recent CPAC conference by the Republican field was about the failure of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.
  • In Colorado, 44% of voters are “very worried” by the rise of Islamic extremists and another 34% “somewhat worried,” and 71% are “very” or “somewhat” worried about a Charlie Hebdo-type attack in the U.S. (Quinnipiac, Feb. 15, 2015)

Bennet has Work to Do

Sen. Michael Bennet
Colorado’s U.S. Senator Michael Bennet has work to do. The February 2015 Quinnipiac poll, which essentially launches the 2016 senate race, shows Bennet below 40 percent in approval, with a third of the public unable to rate him, including 29 percent of Democrats. About the same percentage of women and men approve of him (38% men and 39% women), but 38 percent of women couldn’t rate him vs. 29 percent of men.

Both top federal offices shared low approval ratings, confirming a long-standing pattern that when a Colorado politician goes to Washington, they are mostly forgotten and rapidly assigned to the life of “beltway politician,” which few Coloradans like much.

Newly elected Republican Senator Cory Gardner received a 36 percent approval, with 39 percent unable to rate him, including a quarter (26%) of Republicans and a near majority of unaffiliated voters (48%). However, Mr. Gardner has five years to establish his image, but Mr. Bennet is less than a year from the likely start of his re-election campaign.

Obviously, these numbers are early and subject to much change, but for comparison, a Quinnipiac poll in 2013 about a year and a half out of former Senator Mark Udall’s campaign showed that Bennet’s approval is considerably lower than Udall’s. For example, 69 percent of Democrats approved Udall’s job performance compared to 58 percent for Bennet today. Sixty percent of Democrats supported Udall’s re-election and 53 percent of Democrats support Bennet’s today.

Bennet has his advantages in the 2016 election, including more than a year to get ready for the full-on campaign, no clearly identified opponents and presidential-level turnout assumed to be better for Democrats.

This poll suggests his challenges. He will be running with a president with a low 40 percent approval and with a likely nominee, Hillary Clinton, who is only two points ahead of one of the current Republican frontrunners, Governor Scott Walker.

See The Buzz:
Bennet on list of tough re-elections
Election landscape – 2016 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Oil and Gas Task Force Accomplished its Mission, But Democrats Still at Risk

It was never likely Governor John Hickenlooper’s Oil and Gas Task Force was going to satisfy either its anti-fracking members or the broader anti-hydrocarbon interest groups. They wanted, at a minimum, local control that supersedes state regulations of oil and gas and many wanted an outright statewide ban.

But Hickenlooper, industry supporters and more moderate participants accomplished a number of goals. They created a process that produced some modest improvements for local governments’ effort to manage the industry’s exploration and production. Also important, they improved their position vis-à-vis the inevitable ballot initiative. They can now argue that they made the effort and accepted a series of increased regulations in the state with the most regulations. The anti-frackers and anti-oil and gas groups appear increasingly unreasonable and extreme.

Of course, the Governor and his fellow Democratic leaders accomplished their main goal of keeping the initiatives off the 2014 ballot. But, it will be back, and if supporters can find a deep pocket supporter(s) they might get to the ballot and cause problems for Senator Michael Bennet, a more gas and oil-oriented Democrat than Mark Udall. Hence, the recent tension between Democratic leaders in the Colorado Legislature and the Party’s broader leadership. Frankly, it wasn’t clear, even with Congressman Polis funding anti-frackers, if they were going to win in 2014. But, they were likely to be a distraction. The anti-frackers appear to have even less political strength today outside Boulder and the immediate impacted areas.

But the issue is a major test for Hickenlooper and should produce continued political drama.

Denver Post: As Colorado oil and gas task force finishes, obstacles remain
Denver Post: Colorado oil, gas task force sends 9 measures on to governor’s desk
CPR: Hickenlooper: Oil and gas task force recs ‘probably should be enacted’

Netanyahu Makes Case, White House Very Irritated

Israeli PM Netanyahu
President Obama, Secretary Kerry and NSC Advisor Rice all dedicated substantial time criticizing Prime Minister Netanyahu for his speech before Congress. In fact, while trying to anticipate and reduce the effectiveness of Netanyahu’s arguments, the White House increased the audience and drama.

The impact of the speech will be played out the next several weeks, but Netanyahu commanded the House and received a series of thunderous ovation.

Going into the speech, Netanyahu had a 45 percent favorability rating, with 24 percent unfavorable. The nearly 2-to-1 positive rating reflects an increase in his favorability from 35 percent in 2012. Hence, conflict with the White House the last few years hasn’t hurt. In fact, Netanyahu’s favorability with Democrats is up since 2012 by 6 points, and among Republicans, up 10 points.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hickenlooper Recovers With Colorado’s Economy

Governor John Hickenlooper now has a 53 percent approval rating – not spectacular, but above 50 percent and a recent high for him. He was consistently below 50 percent in a series of 2013 Quinnipiac surveys and survived a tough 2014 re-election by only three points, or 60,000 votes (49%).

Hickenlooper is now 10 points above President Obama and 14 points ahead of his fellow Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. Both Bennet and new U.S. Senator Cory Gardner had more than 30 percent of the electorate unable to rate them.

Some of Hickenlooper’s recover in approval stems from his victory in November and from a new divided legislature, which is less likely to produce controversial liberal legislation or conflict with conservative proposals. But mostly the Governor is benefitting from his association with an economy that the public appears finally upbeat about.

The poll showed 69 percent of voters now claim to be satisfied with the way things are going in the state (only 32% of Americans believe the country is moving in the right direction). And 76 percent claim the state’s economy is “good” or “excellent.” Also, more than half (54%) say “it’s getting better.”

See 9News: Brandon Rittiman and I review Colorado politics

Photo: 9News Balance of Power

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Diana DeGette “Skipping” the Speech

Rep. Diana DeGette
Denver Congresswoman Diana DeGette, representing the state’s largest Jewish community, is “skipping” (CNN, March 3, 2015) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress. She joined 53 other Democrats, many of whom said they were boycotting the speech due to it being an unwelcomed high-profile challenge to the Obama administration’s Iranian

DeGette is Colorado’s longest serving congressperson having been first elected in 1996 and starting service when she was 40 years old in 1997. She is in her 10th term. Re-election in 2016 would make it 20 years.

Is DeGette in her last term? Is she thinking about retirement? There is regular talk about when she might retire. There would be a scramble for the seat since it produces considerable job security. The previous occupant, Pat Schroeder, served 24 years.

Congratulations Denver International Airport

A celebration of the Denver International Airport’s (DIA) twenty years of operation is underway. It has turned out to be one of the greatest economic decisions in which the Denver metro area ever participated.

Planning began a decade earlier, shortly after the election of Federico Peña in 1983. Once a decision was made to move the airport from Stapleton and not expand it onto the nearby Rocky Mountain Arsenal, much of the civic and business community went to work promoting the massive site 20 miles northeast of downtown Denver.

The new president and CEO of the Denver Chamber Dick Fleming and chair of the Denver Chamber Board Dick Kirk (board chair and CEO of United Bank of Denver) authorized a regional survey of residents as to the level of support for a new airport and some of its characteristics, such as how far out from the city would be acceptable.

Ciruli Associates Poll
Denver Airport
March 1987
  • 72% very or somewhat important to build (49% very important)
  • 38% moving too slowly on project
  • 74% taxpayers will pay to build it (not correct information)
  • Make drive to new airport within 25 to 40 minutes
Shortly after this poll was released, Federico Peña was re-elected mayor of Denver, and in 1989 a successful vote in Adams County approved annexation of the land to Denver.

Political Families With Baggage

Both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush benefit from the public identifying their last names, but suffer from baggage – more for Bush.

Hillary Clinton beats Jeb Bush by 44 percent to 36 percent in the latest Colorado Quinnipiac poll. One of Bush’s handicaps in Colorado is the Bush presidential history. Thirty-nine percent of voters said his “father and brother” both serving as president made them less likely to vote for him. Due to Bill Clinton’s presidential stint, Hillary has a quarter (24%) of voters saying they are less likely to support her.

Hillary Clinton’s most serious handicap will be the current Democratic president. The poll showed 58 percent of the electorate want the “next president generally…change direction from Barack Obama’s policies.”

See The Buzz: Clinton ahead by less than margin of error

Monday, March 2, 2015

Putin and Nemtsov

Assuming Russian President Vladimir Putin is not stupid enough to be involved with the murder of one of the few high-profile opponents who hasn’t been driven off the political stage, the picture of Boris Nemtsov’s body framed by St. Basil’s Cathedral and the brightly lit Kremlin wall captures the state of Russian political freedom.

Regardless of Putin’s and his government’s direct responsibility, a decade of Kremlin-led political repression, now joined with a war fervor, which labels all dissidents as traitors and representatives of foreign agents, has all but ended political liberties in Russia.