Littwin: Beat up, but still more blue dog than tea party red
The headline on the National Journal story this week does not beat around the (small b) bush in asking: “Is Colorado turning away from Democrats?”
Hey, it’s a reasonable question. After the Amendment 66 debacle. After the two successful recalls, and with one more possibly in the works. After the lukewarm Hickenlooper polls. After the much-hyped secession movement.
At this point, it’s entirely fair to ask whether purplish-blue Colorado is set for a makeover.
If Evie Hudak ends up facing a recall and Democrats go on to lose the seat, they also lose their Senate majority. It could happen, although it’s not necessarily the way to bet.
John Hickenlooper, who loves being the non-politician, is ending the year looking not just like a politician, but like a liberal politician — definitely not the look he prefers (see: fracking, for more typical Hick). He was stuck with more gun control — however moderate the laws might be — than he had hoped to handle. He had to wrestle with the death penalty and also, we’ll assume, his conscience. Incumbent governors rarely lose in Colorado — you could look it up — but this is not exactly a great time to be the guy in charge.
And if you don’t think there’s trouble out there for Democrats, just watch as incumbent senator Mark Udall — whose seat seems relatively safe — races toward the center, hoping to be planted there by next November when he and Hickenlooper are both running for re-election.
So, might Colorado turn away from Democrats?
The answer is easy enough: It would be possible if — and this is one gigantic if — there were something else to turn toward.
I know that sounds flip, but it isn’t. Since George W. Bush and Wayne Allard won in 2004, there hasn’t been a top-of-the-ticket Republican winner in Colorado. This is not a coincidence. This is the political world in which we live.
Republicans like to say that despite all the electoral evidence, Colorado is still a center-right state. The funny thing is, they may be right, although I think it’s difficult to square the two Obama victories with actual center-rightness. I think center-center is closer and maybe center-center-center-left closer still.
It’s definitely fair, though, to say that Colorado is a fiscally conservative state. The 30-point Amendment 66 defeat may have sealed that point for all time. But the one area in which TABOR inadvertently helps Democrats is that it’s not so easy to pin the tax-and-spend label on them when TABOR leaves the tax question to voters, who are tax averse in the way that Peyton Manning is getting-tackled-at-the-ankles averse.
What TABOR doesn’t do is leave every social issue to the voters. And it’s the social issues where Republicans are losing and where, it appears, they’ll continue to lose. As the nation turns more liberal on these issues — immigration, gay rights, pot, etc. — Republicans have either moved to the right or, more likely, just stood still. And the thing is, you’ve never heard standing still sound quite so loud. That’s the genius of the tea party — and the reason Republicans remain in such trouble in Colorado.
You can talk about demographics and certainly they matter. You can talk about how the Democratic coalition of minorities, women and the highly educated is a cocktail created to work specifically in Colorado. And if you want to know where to look for guidance on electoral matters, it may not be to the secession world of NoCo, where five counties representing 30,000 people — in other words, the rough equivalent of Cherry Creek mall on a slow day — said they wanted out.
The place to look is Virginia, a swing state that swings remarkably like Colorado. It’s even got the mountains, if much smaller ones. And it also had a gubernatorial election just this month.
This was the year purple-turning-bluish Virginia was going to turn back. For decades, the incumbent White House party has lost the Virginia gubernatorial race. The election was set just as the disastrous Obamacare rollout was in mid-pratfall, a counterpoint to the disastrous government shutdown. But it wasn’t the shutdown that beat the Republican Ken Cuccinelli in his race against Terry McAuliffe, a more vulnerable candidate than Hickenlooper would be on his worst day.
Cuccinelli is a hard-right conservative, and Democrats ran against him on abortion, on gay rights, on climate change, even on guns. Abortion has become a major issue again as states across the country — at least those states with Republican governors and Republican legislatures — have been restricting abortion rights at will. In Texas. In North Carolina. In North Dakota. In Oklahoma. In South Dakota. In Kansas. In Tennessee. In Arizona. The list goes on.
And on. Losing on the national stage, Republicans have gone to friendly states to fight back. But I’m thinking Colorado — friendly as we may be — isn’t buddying up to these issues.
You may know where Tom Tancredo stands on most of them. Where Greg Brophy stands. It may be harder to say precisely where Ken “Are Gays Still Like Alcoholics?” Buck stands on each issue — there has been some shifting — but you may remember Amy Stephens doing the full blockade on civil unions. Every time Colorado Democrats start to worry about 2014, they comfort themselves with dreams of dual GOP primaries to come.
And so to answer the National Journal query: If, say, John Hickenlooper were facing a recall — in effect, running against himself — he might be in for a tough time. But facing the Tancredo/Brophy/Kopp/Gessler quartet? That’s an entirely different question.
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