Friday, July 10, 2020

Western Wire: Colorado Oil and Gas has Two Friends Running for Senate

Photo: KUNC file
In a long online analysis, Michael Sandoval, the managing editor of Western Wire, concluded that both U.S. Senate candidates are friends of the local oil and gas industry, but that current Colorado politics and national Democratic Party activists are for more regulation and, in some cases, prohibitions of the industry’s activities and products.

His article reviewed the recent Democratic primary, especially from the view of the oil and gas industry. David Flaherty, CEO of Magellan Strategies, and I were interviewed.

Some of my comments:

Ciruli told Western Wire that Hickenlooper’s substantial record and more centrist positioning on oil and gas didn’t seem to matter in the primary, with Romanoff’s attempt to push Green New Deal and climate change positions, including a ban on fracking on federal lands, not appearing to sway the party’s primary constituents, which included unaffiliated voters.

 “Hickenlooper’s substantial win was mostly a reflection of Colorado Democrats and their unaffiliated allies wanting to win, as opposed to just issue positions,” said Ciruli. “Romanoff certainly argued strongly that Hickenlooper was not sufficiently environmentally-oriented particularly on gas and oil.”

“Hickenlooper hit a number of environmental notes but he didn’t really apologize or change his position at all,” he added. Colorado’s voter landscape and oil and gas industry prominence provided Hickenlooper some room for error. “It’s probably a safer position in Colorado and the Democrats here didn’t mind it.”

“The polls indicated that most Democrats and unaffiliateds felt his sort of center position was fine, not too far left or too far right. He will be a formidable candidate against Cory Gardner,” said Ciruli.

Ciruli thinks the former governor could hold a minority position in the Democratic Party come November.

“Hickenlooper on gas and oil in general—the fact that he happens to be a moderate on it is quite clearly a minority position. It’s a minority position in the state, now in terms of the activists and the legislature and the governor, which is much more inclined toward regulation. It was a minority position on the debate stage when he was running for president,” said Ciruli. “By and large, and perhaps in their party platform they will be anti-fracking. He’ll be a voice, but he will be voice at a moment when his party is dominated by anti-hydrocarbon sentiments.”

The future of Colorado’s Senatorial delegation, currently a split between Gardner, the Republican, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and votes for more stringent regulations and climate focus could hinge on the relative campaign and personal attributes of Gardner and Hickenlooper, instead of any strict policy differences, according to Flaherty and Ciruli.
Gardner’s personal advantages on the campaign trail, from a personal charisma and strong debating style he used to upset the incumbent Democrat, former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, should still be formidable. However, 2020 provides the Gardner with a strong uphill battle—a mix of external forces and a change in voter behavior that could weigh down the Republican in November, according to Ciruli.

“In a straight-up race I think Gardner could win. He’s been a good senator, he’s brought home a lot of benefits, he deals with things in a bipartisan fashion,” Ciruli said. “He’s a very good campaigner and a much better debater than Hickenlooper, but this is not a straight up race. He’s got the detriment of running with Trump who will probably lose by five points which he did last time, if not more.”

Voters may want to send a statement, rather than just assess the candidates on where they stand on critical issues, Ciruli explained.

“Trends indicate this is going to be a message vote, not just a vote on the quality of the candidates, which as I said, Cory would probably be very competitive. That’s the challenge,” said Ciruli.

“Cory will have dollar-for-dollar what Hickenlooper has. If that national race tightens—[Democratic presidential candidate Joe] Biden makes mistakes or Trump finds a message that works or there’s another international incident or national incident that improves his position—the entire Republican ticket will improve. The most recent polls in this state have shown that Gardner and Trump are running at the same point behind by 18 points. Unless that tightens, Cory has an uphill battle, even if we know Hickenlooper is not going to surprise anybody by not being good in a debate. He’s terrible,” Ciruli said.

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