The common narrative is that the GOP is the party at war with itself. But that is only half the truth. Both parties are at war with themselves. Numerous examples stand out on the Republican side there are fewer on the other side of the aisle. But by far the biggest Democratic sign of internal party schisms can be encapsulated by one state; Colorado.
Colorado has a solid Republican history at the Presidential level. From 1968-2004 the state only voted once for a Democrat (Clinton 92). But underlying this strong Republican tendency at the Presidential level was a Democratic lean at the state level. Indeed, the state consistently elected Democrats to statewide Constitutional and federal offices on a consistent basis. For example, in 2004 when George Bush won the state, Democrat Ken Salazar won an open Senate seat.
Since 2004 the state’s pink hue at the Presidential level has turned a distinct shade of purple and state level politics has turned decidedly blue. Democrats took the Governor’s mansion and the legislature in 2006. In 2008 they took control of both of the state’s US Senate seats. The GOP imploded in 2010 allowing Democrats to maintain the Governor’s mansion and hold a swing Senate seat (the GOP did gain two Congressional seats). Democrats dominated the 2012 elections.
Democrats trumpeted their victories as signs of the state was turning blue. A growing Hispanic population in the North and young, college educated demographic in Denver and the suburbs were the linchpins of Colorado’s turn left. But forgotten in this analysis was the fact that many conservative whites sat out the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections.
Fueled by their victories in recent years liberal Democrats ignored the advice of their more moderate counterparts and embarked on a series of liberal quests. They succeeded in dragging along moderate Governor John Hickenlooper. In 2013 the legislature passed new energy efficiency standards (basically a series of new taxes and fees), convinced Hickenlooper to pardon a convicted felon and pass new gun control legislation.
The gun control legislation was met with strong resistance by both suburban and rural voters (including many Democrats) and recalls succeeded in knocking out two Democrats sitting in districts that had voted for Obama in 2012. A third Democrat resigned instead of facing a recall. Still, Democrats nationally and in Colorado believed the liberal message would take hold. It hasn’t.
Nationally, Democrats have been dragged down by scandals and Colorado is no different. Allegations the state lost millions in contracts through their Healthcare Exchange have damaged legislative Democrats. Hickenlooper, once thought to be safe for reelection, now is statistically tied in recent polls with an average GOP challenger. His drop in the polls is likely related to negative stories regarding gun control and exaggerations about the law’s impact.
Freshman Senator Mark Udall, easily elected in 2008, is now in the fight of his political life against Republican Congressman Corey Gardner. Polls have the race neck and neck. The cross tabs of a Quinnipiac survey are revealing. In the survey Gardner leads by two points overall but he is only losing by 16% in Denver, 7% in Jefferson and Araphoe counties, up by 4% in the West and 25% everywhere else in the state. Republicans outweigh Democrats in the survey by 2% and those without a college degree support Gardner by 8%. Even more disconcerting for Democrats is the fact few Hispanics expect to vote this November, likely fueled by the President’s horrid handling of the border.
Colorado also features another struggle Democrats face nationally; a weak President dragging down party nominees. Chris Cillizza makes a compelling case here based on historical precedent. The President’s approval in the state in the Quinnipiac survey is terrible (58% disapprove to 39% approve). A PPP (D) survey found the President at 53% disapproval and stuck at 39% approval.
Combine the President’s weak numbers with unpopular liberal polices and PPP (a partisan pollster mind you) finds Republicans lead in all statewide Constitutional races (minus Governor). Republicans also lead on the generic ballot for the legislature.
Lastly, Democrats are hampered by internal party schisms. Moderates in the state party have largely been purged (in a reflection of GOP efforts in recent years) and as a result liberal initiatives have filtered through unchecked. The latest iteration of this trend, an initiative on the ballot this November to allow cities to ban fracking, has caused headaches for Democrats. The initiative, pushed by Congressman Jared Polis, a liberal who sits in an urban Denve Congressional District, has been officially disavowed by both Udall and Hickenlooper in an attempt not to lose the state’s massive energy industry. While the initiative might galvanize more liberals to turn out it will also likely increase GOP turnout as well. Suburban voters worried about the cost of living and energy prices might find it in their best interest to pull the lever for Republicans to help their bottom line.
Democrats struggles in Colorado reflect their party’s weakness nationally. But Colorado Democrats also must blame themselves for misunderstanding what the electorate was telling them in 2010 (we don’t want a sexist US Senator) and 2012 (Obama or a wealthy autocrat). While Colorado voters did not vote for center right policies in 2010 or 2012 they certainly did not vote to allow a wish-list of liberal policies that include new taxes, infringement on the 2nd Amendment rights, and taxpayer dollars going into black holes. Democrats seem to have thought they did and they may pay the price for it in November.