Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

Littwin: The human sunbeam and the red meat warriors

Littwin:  The human sunbeam and the red meat warriors

Let’s try a little revisionist history — my favorite kind.

What if I were to tell you that John Hickenlooper had collected more votes in his governor’s race than Cory Gardner has in his Senate race and has a slightly bigger lead over Bob Beauprez than Gardner has over Mark Udall?

You’d be surprised, right? You’d be even more surprised to learn that it’s actually true.

By the time most people had gone to bed Tuesday night, Gardner was up 7 points and Hickenlooper was down a point, and even though Hickenlooper would pull out the victory, the narrative had been set. It wasn’t just a disaster for Democrats nationally (which it was). It was also a disaster for Democrats in Colorado (which it doesn’t seem to be, exactly; it’s more like just a really, really, really bad night).

Gardner won by playing the moderate. What have Republicans learned from the race? Boehner is already promising to bring up yet another repeal-Obamacare vote, and Cruz is promising rebellion if McConnell shows any sign of compromise with Obama.

Late Tuesday, both houses of the legislature appeared to have flipped from Democratic to Republican control, with the governor’s seat in danger. Now it looks as if Democrats will hang on to the House, probably lose the Senate and you know about Hick, meaning that the state government could look very similar to how it looked all the way back to when Hickenlooper won four years ago — Hick as governor with a split legislature.

The strangest thing is that Hickenlooper – who has spent so much time at the center of a gun-laws, sheriffs-pandering storm — is the Democrat who survives, and Udall, whose career has been basically storm-free, is the one who gets toppled.

It may not be that hard to explain, though. Udall had to run against Gardner, now the rising star of the Republican Party, whom Bloomberg writer Joshua Green calls a “purple superhero.” Meanwhile, Hickenlooper was fortunate enough to face Beauprez, who’s not a hero of any description.

If Beauprez really had a chance to beat Hickenlooper, in a race the pollsters had called a tossup at the end, he almost certainly lost it with his Blair Witch Project ad, suggesting that a Hickenlooper-led Colorado was a scary place in which to live. It didn’t pass the laugh test — and it reminded everyone that Beauprez had so little to add to the political conversation.

Gardner is now seen as a model — and rightfully so — for how a Republican can win in a purple-trending-blue state. As you no doubt heard, Gardner was once rated the 10th most conservative member of the crazy-conservative House. For context, you should know Michele Bachmann didn’t crack the top 25. So how could Gardner win with that record in Colorado against a mainstream Democrat like Udall?

Here’s my thesis: Even as Colorado has trended blue, it is still, if you look closely, an ever-so-slightly center-right state, and one in search of a Republican who fits that center-right model. They just couldn’t find one. For a decade, they couldn’t find one. We may have made fun of the constant Gardner smile — and certainly of George Will’s fawning “human sunbeam” description — but optimism and a happy-warrior style can work, especially in an off-year election, if you can just look moderate. It can even beat a Udall, whose “war on women” strategy is taking the blame. It can even win — apparently — when you duck and dodge every hard question about your record.

But this is a rare find. If you look at the other House Republicans on that top 10 list, it’s all red meat, faux-populism, anti-government, pro-impeachment talk. Gardner, meantime, is the conservative voter with the moderate rhetoric who frustrates oppo-research guys looking for any incendiary quote to pin on him. For Gardner, it has always been attitude over ideology, and when Obama is 14 points underwater in your state, and Republicans are winning across the country, that was enough for Gardner to break Colorado Republicans’ decade-long, top-of-the-ticket losing streak.

The question is whether Republicans can learn from this lesson. And let me jump in here to be among the first to guess that the answer is no. You don’t make models based on exceptionalism. How long have Republicans been waiting for the next Reagan? What conservative would get the winking approval of his base to run as a moderate (ask Romney or McCain)?

Beauprez is a different — the Republican who warns of a coming civil war, of creeping Sharia and of sheep-like voters who would line up for microchip implants (yes, microchip implants). I was there at the Pueblo debate to see Beauprez basically accuse Hickenlooper of responsibility for the murder of his friend Tom Clements. Beauprez was booed that night and still he came up with the Evan Ebel ad for his closing argument. The takeaway is that Beauprez couldn’t absorb the Gardner lesson while running in the same state at the same time.

And they don’t seem to have learned it in Washington, either. The word from Congress is that John Boehner has promised to bring up yet another repeal-Obamacare vote as soon as the session opens next year. And that Ted Cruz has warned Mitch McConnell that he’ll line up his Cruzites — you can expect newly elected Thom Tillis and Tom Cotton to join the team — if McConnell shows any sign of compromise with Obama.

We can agree this election was a huge defeat for Obama and a huge defeat for Democrats and a huge win for Gardner. But let’s agree, too, that it would portend something yet again if, two years from now, the unlikely purple superhero were named Cruz or Paul or Rubio or Bush or Perry or Walker or Jindal.

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About the Author

Mike Littwin

He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
mlittwin@coloradoindependent.com | Twitter @mike_littwin


  1. Pingback: Post Election Analysis | Never Politics: Where It's Always Politics.

  2. Will Morrison on said:

    Way to go, Colorado. I am SO disgusted by the STUPIDITY of what you’ve done, I want to spit. You’ve taken a decent senator and threw him out for the likes of a Koch brothers sell out. Do the Koch’s NEED more representation? Because that is who you voted to give OURS to, YOU IDIOTS.

    Did ANY of you even consider what this would mean to the country, or did you just decide that you hate the black man in the white house SO much that you just HAD to sabotage the entire country for the sake of that hate? Because that is EXACTLY what you MORONS have done. If you thought the gridlock was bad before, just wait. And you can look in the freaking mirror when you wonder who caused the disaster we will be living through for at LEAST the next two years.

    You people are FOOLS. You bought the NONSENSE of the smooth talking LIAR who doesn’t give a flying rat’s butt about YOU, what YOU need or this state at all. He cares about HIMSELF and what his big money OWNERS want. YOU don’t mean a tinker’s damn to him. And with EVERY vote he makes, that will become clearer and clearer, even to the likes of YOU IDIOTS who put his LYING ASS in office.

    I will NEVER forgive this state for being so INCREDIBLY STUPID. And I’m NOT going to put up with any crap out of you morons, either. The first complaint about what he does in office will get it RIGHT BACK in their faces from me. YOU did this, LIVE WITH IT.


  3. Don Lopez on said:

    Mr. Littwin’s lack of political acumen is nothing short of stunning, eclipsed only by his unwillingness to address or even acknowledge any of his more risible election observations (a small sampling below).

    Of course, it’s difficult to see things clearly when wearing cerulean-colored glasses and even more difficult to acquire political insight simply through listening to countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

    – And John Hickenlooper — fearful that the gun-control laws he reluctantly signed might have made him look like, shudder, a liberal — gets to laugh all the way back to the governor’s office. How could I miss that? – August, 2013
    – This is the day on which Republicans should be nominating someone in the race for governor who could reasonably challenge incumbent John Hickenlooper. But, of course, they won’t. Because there’s no one in the four-way field who can. Here are the possible scenarios for the Republican nominee: It could be a disaster (Tom Tancredo) or a snooze (Bob Beauprez) or possibly a long shot’s long shot (Scott Gessler) or maybe (nah, it can’t be him).- June. 2014
    – Women already vote in large numbers for Democrats. If contraception coverage becomes an issue, that number should only grow. It’s certainly the way that Democrats will bet – March, 2013
    – In the year of women’s issues, the Democrats had already brought in their Big 3 — Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama — to energize the voters. But Bill comes in as the closer. And he’s still got wicked stuff. – October, 2014
    – There are issues and then there are issues. The Republican stand on abortion and, from some, on birth control is a big part of the Republican problem with women. – June, 2014
    – And there is another big issue, but it works the other way: the government shutdown. Gardner not only voted for the shutdown, he also voted, just recently, against raising the debt ceiling, risking default. Then there are the rest of the issues. Gardner is on the wrong side of the poll numbers on immigration reform (Bennet beat Buck 81-19 on the Latino vote), on “forcible rape” (remember this vote, because it will become a major issue), on personhood, on abortion, on minimum wage, on cutting $40 billion in food stamps, on gay rights, on his vote for the Ryan budget and its impact on Medicare. – February, 2014
    – 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. – November, 2013
    – Can (Cory Gardner) the 10th most conservative House member — a number that most Tea Partiers would give up their Ted Cruz decoder ring to claim — really be elected statewide in a Colorado that has been trending blue for a decade? – February, 2014

    Now, the answers:
    Did Governor Hickenlooper “laugh all the way back to the governor’s office”? No.

    Did Republicans nominate “someone in the race for governor who could reasonably challenge incumbent John Hickenlooper.”? Yes.

    Did contraception coverage hurt Cory Gardner? No.

    Did “the Big Dog” bring his wicked stuff? No. He endorsed Andrew Romanoff (for the second time, by the way), Senator Udall and Governor Hickenlooper. Only the latter saved him from the trifecta nobody wants.

    Did abortion hurt Cory Gardner? No.

    Did “forcible rape” (remember this vote, because it will become a major issue)” become a major issue? No, and neither did the government shutdown, immigration reform, personhood, minimum wage, cutting $40 billion in food stamps, gay rights or his vote for the Ryan budget and its impact on Medicare.

    Did Colorado voters find “something else to turn toward.” Yes.

    “Can (Cory Gardner) the 10th most conservative House member — a number that most Tea Partiers would give up their Ted Cruz decoder ring to claim — really be elected statewide in a Colorado that has been trending blue for a decade? “ Yes.

    Will Mr. Littwin ever be right? Maybe, tilting towards no.

    Will this inhibit Mr. Littwin in the future? Of course not, his default position on acknowledging his mistakes has always been avoid, deflect, ignore, repeat and a Pulitzer Prize is not exactly on the horizon.

    If you want left-leaning political spin, Mr. Littwin’s your guy but if you want political insight there’s always David Harsanyi or George Will.

    If the (Senate) filibuster is gone — or mostly gone — that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing if it’s bad for Republicans. It’s a good thing if it’s bad for Democrats. Either way, it’s still good for good government. – Mike Littwin

  4. Julia S. Clifford on said:

    Will Morrison is a textbook illustration of projection. Those of you studying for mental health professions, take a look carefully. The one who brands those with whom he disagrees as “haters,” is himself the most obvious hater. Take it down a notch Will! You’re so partisan, you can’t see how lawless this administration has been. Have the integrity to admit it. Democrats are admitting it but unfortunately, only behind closed doors. If they don’t stand up soon, our country is doomed.

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