The hopeful caveat comes right up front: This is a Democratic poll and there’s fully a year to go before Coloradans vote.
But the caveat comes with its own caveat. An independent poll of the state conducted by Emerson in August found Gardner trailing John Hickenlooper by a similar margin. Emerson had it 53/40. Today’s Democratic poll has it 53/42. Normally it’d be implausible for any incumbent senator to trail by double digits in a swing state, but … Colorado’s not much of a swing state anymore. It’s blue enough that Hillary managed to win it in 2016 when virtually every other battleground across the country was tilting towards Trump. And Gardner’s not facing some rando next fall. Hickenlooper is a twice-elected governor (and before that a twice-elected mayor of Denver), probably better known to most voters there than Gardner himself is. It’s certainly possible that this really is a 10-point race right now.
To think: If Hickenlooper’s presidential run had gotten a tiny bit more traction, he might have been forced to stick around in the Dem primaries long enough that his window to run for Senate back home would have closed. His total failure at the national level seems likely to produce a Senate pick-up for Democrats next fall.
The poll shows that President Trump is at his lowest popularity point since he took office. Thirty-eight percent of people polled said they viewed him favorably, compared to 60% who view him unfavorably. His favorability has only been that low once in KOM polling, in March 2018; and his unfavorability was last that high in January. KOM also conducted a similar poll in June…
Thirty-four percent of people polled in the latest KOM survey said they viewed Gardner favorably, compared to 45% who view him unfavorably. His favorability was lowest, and his unfavorability highest, at any point that KOM has polled that question over the past 2 ½ years…
Fifty-four percent of respondents said they support the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, compared to 43% who oppose it. And 48% of respondents said they believe Trump should be impeached and removed from office, compared to 44% who said he should not be.
Some have noted that Hickenlooper’s 53/42 margin over Gardner closely matches support for the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, which runs 54/43. Trump may be killing Gardner here. And if it’s true that Trump’s own approval rating in Colorado stands at 38/60, he might not even contest the state next fall, calculating that his resources are better spent trying to flip Minnesota.
All of this puts Gardner in a terrible bind on impeachment. More so than most of his Republican colleagues, he’s damned if he votes to remove and damned if he doesn’t. The poll notes that his approval is barely above water even among his own party, which means he’ll basically be required to vote to acquit Trump to shore up their support. The last thing he can afford to do now is piss off his own base when he’s fighting uphill against Hickenlooper, after all. But given the depth of Colorado’s dislike for Trump, siding with the president is destined to cement some of the opposition to Gardner. Unaffiliated voters already favor Hickenlooper by 25 points (58/33) and 61 percent(!) of them support impeachment, which means there’s no option for Gardner on impeachment and removal that probably won’t cost him more votes than it’ll earn him.
If these Democratic numbers remotely reflect actual reality, Gardner might be sunk next fall. It’s not like the economy’s going to get dramatically better between now and then to rescue him given how well it’s done already during Trump’s term. And in light of the past week or two, it’s highly unlikely that Trump will say or do anything in the coming year that’ll rehabilitate him with Coloradans.
The only silver lining here: Doug Jones is facing the same “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma in Alabama. Vote to acquit Trump and his own party will be outraged, vote to remove and the majority of the electorate will revolt. At worst, the loss of Gardner’s seat to the GOP will be offset by the gain of Jones’s seat. The difference between the two senators is that Jones surely knows his time in the Senate is over and will probably vote on removal and everything else over the next 12 months the way he wants, without worrying about the political implications. Gardner’s doom isn’t quite as assured so he may still be susceptible to partisan pressure. For Trump’s sake, he should hope Gardner gets a good poll or two between now and the removal vote to convince him to stick with the team. If he falls further behind Hickenlooper, Gardner may say “to hell with it” and start voting the way he wants too.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Republicans in the Senate, though. I’ll leave you on a sunny note with this poll from Michigan, which has challenger John James neck and neck with Democratic incumbent Gary Peters, trailing 43/40. James outperformed expectations last year in falling short against Debbie Stabenow. With Trump at the top of the ticket in a state that went red in 2016, he has a shot at a pick-up. Which is good because, with Susan Collins in the same boat as Gardner on impeachment and removal, we shouldn’t count on Maine’s Senate seat staying red next year either.