The Democrats' Colorado conundrum

Within the state, the Democratic problems stem from an ambitious liberal agenda pushed through by an ascendant legislative majority. Colorado was one of the rare swing states where the Legislature passed universal background checks for gun purchases and ammunition magazine limitations in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. The backlash has been severe, particularly outside the state’s urban centers, leading to successful recalls of two Democratic state senators and the resignation of another. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed bills allowing for driver’s licenses and in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants and dropped in the polls—proof positive that liberalizing immigration policies isn’t a win-win issue, even for a Democrat.

Environmentalists were pleased when the governor signed legislation that raised the state’s renewable-energy standards for rural cooperatives. But the action prompted deep opposition in the rural parts of Colorado, with residents angry over increased utility costs. Control of the state Senate is up for grabs in 2014, with Democrats holding onto a tenuous one-seat advantage.

All of this should give Democrats pause that Obama’s poll-tested second term agenda—gun control, new environmental regulations, immigration reform—has its political limitations, even in states with the types of voters who have trended to the Democratic Party. Without sustained economic growth and with the baggage of Obamacare looming large, the base is becoming disenchanted, and enthusiasm is on the side of the opposition. The results of those discontents already happened in Colorado.