A recent poll from Service Employees International Union conducted by Strategies 360 claims that in a race between the party’s respective frontrunners – Walker Stapleton and Jared Polis – Polis, the Democrat, would win by 5 points. It also reinforced earlier polls that Polis is ahead of Cary Kennedy by more than 10 points.
General election polls more than four months before an election are highly unreliable, but it does reflect the view that Colorado Democrats have a generic advantage just based on shifting partisanship and recent voting behavior – namely, Hillary Clinton’s 5 point win in 2016. But, that advantage depends on a base of voters turning out and the large bloc of less committed, weak partisans and unaffiliated voters being attracted to, or at least not put off by, the Democratic candidate. As Cory Gardner highlighted, Republicans can win statewide even against well-funded incumbents. What are some of the factors that will define the race?
As Dick Wadhams, a top Republican strategist, argued in the Denver Post, a Republican candidate must run a nearly flawless campaign. Republicans simply have no room for error and they must aggressively exploit every misstep of the other side. Wadhams pointed to Democratic weaknesses – a very far left nominee, expensive new programs and attacks on powerful economic interests (e.g., gas and oil), or as wordsmith Wadhams put it: “The new Bernie Sanders/Democratic Party.”
In a parallel commentary, Alan Salazar, the Democrats’ top strategist, a person who has boosted the careers of Udall, Hickenlooper and now Hancock, sees the Trump factor the greatest asset promoting Democrats, especially motivating the base, but also providing regular controversies that will put Republicans in an explaining posture. Salazar is correct that Trump was not only unpopular in Colorado in 2016, but recent polls reinforce that beyond committed Republicans and some blue collar conservatives, he continues to lack appeal to Colorado’s swing voters, critical in the state’s general election.
Considering party positioning and the 2018 environment, it appears that Colorado Democrats have a slight, but fragile, advantage. Although the state has shifted to the left, the Democratic ticket may be even more to the left. The Blue Wave may be strong in November, but Democrats have a poor record of turnout in non-presidential elections.
This analysis did not consider the candidates or their campaigns. I predict July and August will rapidly highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the two candidates and their ability to construct campaign organizations. This is a major political transition for Colorado, and both local and national media and interest groups have a powerful stake in the outcome – they will be watching.