Pollster says Colorado not so Blue after all, despite shift to Democrats

(Photo/Auntie P, Flickr)

(Photo/Auntie P, Flickr)

Despite sweeping electoral victories and dramatic shifts in party registration, Colorado hasn’t really shifted allegiance to the ruling Democrats, pollster Floyd Ciruli told a gathering of the state’s county commissioners Wednesday. “People are saying, ‘Go ahead, we’ll give you a year or two.’ And then they might pull the franchise if it doesn’t work out,” Ciruli told a gathering of Colorado Counties, Inc., according to Politics West’s John Ingold.

Fair point — no one’s got a lock on power past the next election — but Colorado voters first gave Democrats “a year or two” more than four years ago, when they turned out Republican majorities in the state Legislature and replaced an outgoing Republican congressman and a senator with the Salazar brothers. The Republican dominoes continued their fall two years ago, when Democrats took over the governor’s mansion, the state treasurer’s office and the 7th Congressional District, while increasing their majorities under the dome. This year, another U.S. Senate seat went blue, as did the 4th Congressional District, which hasn’t been represented by a Democrat since the early 1970s. After Republican Secretary of State Mike Coffman steps down in January to enter Congress, Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to name a Democrat to that post, completing an exact reversal of the two parties’ positions across the state.

“There’s no ideological shift here to the left in my opinion,” Ciruli also told the county honchos. “There is a shift toward pragmatism.”

True that, though few Democrats in Colorado have run as raving liberals, especially for Congress and statewide. “You really have to be focused on swing voters,” Ciruli said, repeating a bromide that could have been uttered anytime in at least the last 30 years.

But it’s when Ciruli prognosticates about what might happen after the “year or two” granted the Democrats that he runs up against contrary predictions — made a day earlier by Ciruli himself.

Discussing the upcoming gubernatorial race, “Ciruli said there are five or six Republicans who could potentially give Gov. Bill Ritter a hard run for re-election in 2010,” Ingold reports. “At the state level,” Ciruli told the commissioners, “I think the Republicans have a very good chance to run a very competitive race. There is big money that is angry with him.”

On Tuesday, Ciruli painted a very different picture of the governor’s prospects in an interview with The Hill, telling the D.C. news site that Ritter is in good shape, “thanks largely to a depleted Republican bench.”

“The Republicans, I think, are suffering both organizationally, financially and in terms of their bench,” Ciruli told The Hill’s Reid Wilson. Far from naming “five or six” Republicans who could give Ritter “a hard run,” Ciruli listed a handful of problematic or washed-up potential candidates, including retiring Rep. Tom Tancredo, retired Rep. Bob Beauprez, and former University of Denver president Marc Holtzman.

Tancredo has made no secret of his plans to run for governor but is seen as polarizing even by some Republicans, and Beauprez lost to Ritter by 17 points with a campaign widely regarded as one of the worst in the state’s history. Holtzman couldn’t even get past Beauprez in the 2006 primary for a chance to lose to Ritter.

The shallow bench notwithstanding, Ciruli pegs the race as an uphill one for any Republican challenger. “If you look at the last three governors, they all won their re-elections fairly handily,” Ciruli told The Hill. “We’re in a rising tide [for Democrats] and even leaky boats do okay.”

The same is true of every senator from Colorado who has sought re-election in the last 30 years — Democrat Floyd Haskell, who lost to Republican Bill Armstrong, was the last sitting senator defeated at the polls, in 1978 — but Ciruli finds peril for Ken Salazar, who kicks off his 2010 re-election campaign Friday with a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser in Denver. “If there was the right candidate, Ken could be in a race,” Ciruli told The Hill.

A race, maybe, as opposed to a walk, although the Democrat’s harshest critics come from the left wing of his own party — those who are opposed to Salazar’s positions on telcom immunity and who are bothered by the senator’s early and enthusiastic support for former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Still, if Republicans are beating the bushes for a viable challenger to Ritter, it’s hard to see their depleted bench yielding an equally strong candidate to take on Salazar, who perfectly fits Ciruli’s assessment of Colorado’s non-ideological, pragmatic — albeit increasingly and overwhelmingly Democratic — voters.

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Ernest Luning

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