Littwin: Colorado’s total recall

Be afraid.

Be very afraid.

That was the message the NRA boys and their friends were threatening to send. That’s the message they delivered in what is now being called Colorado’s total recall.

They got the signatures to take on two Democratic senators — in the first legislative recalls in Colorado history — and both of the senators went down, in what was a great surprise to Democrats, to Republicans and even to the gunnies.

So it’s time to say it: Jon Caldara was right. (By the way, those are words I’ve never written before and figure to never write again). Every pragmatic Democratic politician from a bluish-purple state, from a semi-swing district, from anywhere really, is going to think hard about ever supporting modest, sane gun-control legislation again.

This is the lesson of the Colorado recalls. Caldara, the Independence Institute prankster, said the recalls would set off a wave of fear. A wave, I fear, may understate the severity of the situation.

John Morse, the Senate president who lost by a scant two points in his Colorado Springs district, said his loss of his seat was “a small price to pay” for saving lives with the modest Colorado gun laws. And maybe it was.

Angela Giron said she didn’t have an “iota of regret” for her votes for the modest gun laws — yes, modest; we’ll say it again — after getting hammered in very Democratic Pueblo. And maybe she didn’t.

But politicians who still have their jobs may not be quite so brave. What I mean is, don’t expect to see any more gun laws in Colorado. Don’t expect Congress, which has already ducked the issue, to take up the issue. Don’t expect John Hickenlooper to ever use the words gun and control consecutively. Don’t be surprised if Sen. Greg Brophy, who has made guns a centerpiece of his campaign to win the Republican nomination for governor, sends out Christmas cards with the family firing rounds from a rifle that looks alarmingly like the one used in the Aurora massacre.

But this is really a national story. It’s the NRA vs. Bloomberg, rural America vs. New York City. The ramifications are obvious, but I think they’ll be far more important outside Colorado than within our secession-proof (so far) borders, where zealots like the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners — check the repulsive image on their Facebook page to see what I mean — don’t wear well.

The Morse loss you can explain away. He got 49 percent of the vote. In winning his seat in 2010, he got 48 percent. Yes, that’s right. It’s strange math, but he got a higher percentage after nursing the (yes, modest) gun laws through the Senate than before. In 2010, there was a Libertarian candidate, and Morse squeaked by with 300 votes to spare in the Tea Party wave election, right in the middle of Colorado Tea Party country.

He lost this time with no mail-in ballots, with only four days of early voting, with a turnout of just over 20 percent. There was no revolution in Colorado Springs. It was more of a temper tantrum. From the beginning, there was every reason to think Morse would lose. In fact, he said his strategy was to “lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, win” and it nearly worked. In fact, if Morse had had a few more days of early voting, I think he probably would have won.

Pueblo, though, is the story. Pueblo had twice as many voters as Morse’s Colorado Springs district did. Pueblo had thousands more registered Democrats turn out than registered Republicans. Giron’s rival, George Rivera, was a complete political novice whose campaign consisted of saying as little as possible. And, still, Giron lost by 14 points. Whatever people want to say of Democratic overreach, there’s no good explanation for what happened in a Democratic district except the gun issue.

No one could remember when this seat wasn’t Democratic, which is why it’s the Pueblo vote that no one, from either party, will forget.

We’ve been here before. In 2000, when Al Gore semi-lost the presidency, many blamed it on his support for, yes, extremely modest gun control. The Democrats basically decided that they had to abandon the issue. The polling was bad. The NRA was powerful.

There was a brief – a far too brief – lull after Columbine. But you remember that the NRA came to town the next week. It’s still stunning to consider.

There was nothing for years, even after the Virginia Tech shootings. Even after the Gabby Giffords shootings. The issue was too toxic for Democrats, and gunnies (this is Caldara’s word) were winning everywhere, including in the Supreme Court.

But then came Aurora and then came Sandy Hook. And something had to change. In Colorado, surely, something had changed.

The nation was shocked. The president was moved. The Colorado legislature, controlled by Democrats, had to respond. Hickenlooper, who was initially reluctant to get involved with gun issues, became very involved. That the gun issue had left the liberal East and come to the small-l libertarian West of Colorado had been a symbol of a response to the horrors of disturbed young men and gun violence.

Now there’s another symbol for the nation to consider. Scary? Afraid so.

He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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