Colorado, once a reliably Republican state, looks more blue than purple these days.
Even amid 2010’s Republican rout of Democratic candidates across the country, Colorado surprised much of the political establishment when Democrats won both statewide races. In 2012, the Centennial State again voted for President Barack Obama by more than 5 points, cementing its status as a premier member of the Democrat’s impenetrable Blue Wall.
This year, Colorado voters will again head to the polls and, on paper, Republicans in this state are far better positioned than they were in 2010.
In a deft maneuver, Ken Buck, a former district attorney who ran for Senate and lost in 2010, agreed to run for Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) seat so that the sophomore congressman can serve as the GOP’s federal candidate this year. The straight-shooting political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg recently said Gardner “may well be the best GOP challenger in the country.”
The GOP is similarly blessed in that Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper faces off against former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-CO) this year. In 2010, Hickenlooper was the beneficiary of a local GOP civil war. That year, the party’s gubernatorial nominee, local businessman Dan Maes, had to contend with former Rep. Tom Tancredo who also ran for governor as an independent. Even though both candidates split the conservative vote, however, Hickenlooper still emerged on election night with 51 percent of the popular vote.
In spite of the fact that Colorado Republicans seem to have their act together, the party still faces an uphill battle in the state. A set of surveys released on Tuesday appeared to confirm that the state is prepared live up to its reputation as a reliable member of Democratic Party’s new majority coalition.
An NBC News/Marist poll released Tuesday showed Centennial voters favoring incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) over Gardner by 48 to 41 percent. The poll also showed Hickenlooper beating Beauprez with 49 to 43 percent support. But these results were called into question on Wednesday by the release of a Quinnipiac University poll of the Colorado governor’s race.
That survey found Beauprez, a figure who has not held federal office since 2007, has remarkably low name recognition. 31 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the candidate while 25 percent said they viewed him negatively, but a staggering 43 percent said they had not heard enough about Beauprez to form an opinion. Even though voters know nothing about him, Quinnipiac’s survey reveals that they are prepared to give him a shot. The poll found Beauprez leading Hickenlooper with 44 to 43 percent.
Beauprez’s strength in this survey has everything to do with Hickenlooper’s weakness. The poll found Hickenlooper’s favorability rating collapsing from 51 percent in April to 43 percent today. 48 percent approve of the job he has done in office while 46 percent disapprove. 42 percent of respondents said Hickenlooper deserves reelection while 48 percent disagreed. Those results were reversed in April.
It is hard to square these results with NBC’s. The NBC/Marist poll found a comparable number of voters had no opinion or had never heard of Beauprez (38 percent), but it also found that Hickenlooper’s job approval rating is 19 points above water (54/35 percent). Similarly, NBC found voters in the Centennial state have a favorable impression of their governor (51/36 percent).
It will take a lot more data to get a clearer picture of how the race in Colorado is shaping up. But if Hickenlooper is as much of a drag at the top of the ticket as Quinnipiac suggests, the GOP is poised to benefit in a number of down-ballot races.