1. Messaging and the War on Women
With most folks in Colorado abundantly aware of the messaging barrage from incumbent Democrats pushing a “war on women” theme they first put to use in the 2010 midterm election against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck–with success–there’s not much to say other than will the ultimate outcome for Republicans and Democrats alike be determined by what many, including the Denver Post, which branded the strategy “obnoxious”? In 2010 Sen. Bennet’s campaign balanced the messaging about womens’ issues with general concerns about Buck’s suitability as a U.S. Senate candidate. Branding Buck “too extreme” on a number of issues and capitalizing on the Republican candidate’s many self-inflicted missteps, Bennet was able to appeal to women without sounding, essentially, like a broken record. Bennet didn’t make the campaign strategy an extension of his personality, and turned the election into a referendum on the challenger. In 2014, Udall appears to have inverted that scheme by making himself unlikeable, most pronounced with male voters. Udall did what his challenger, Cory Gardner, could not do–make the incumbent look less attractive than when his GOP rival joined the race. Whether or not this year’s gender gap with men, seen across many of the polls for nearly all Republican candidates as highly favorable, will deliver victories for the beleaguered party after a streak of top of the ticket losses will be the key question of the night.
2. GOTV efforts, Bennet’s “Bannock Street Project”
Democrats eager to believe that the polling which shows a tight race for both U.S. Senate and Colorado Governor is incorrect again in 2014 point to their decade-old get-out-the-vote canvassing effort that has delivered victories again and again as what will inevitably allow them to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. This will be especially true again in 2014 as it was in 2010, when structural Republican advantages (Tea Party wave in 2010) and GOP GOTV in 2014 appear to be moving the purple state back in the red direction. As I said in 2010, the true measure of the Colorado model and Senator Michael Bennet–head of the DSCC this cycle–and the “Bannock Street Project” will be when headwinds force Democrats to work harder than the favorable 2006, 2008, and 2012 cycles.
In contrast GOP fortunes in 2014 rest on a revamped GOTV infrastructure–one they promise will be better in voter ID and ballot-chasing this year. They are banking, too, on a much better slate of candidates, who avoided major miscues and damaging off-message commentary that spelled disaster in 2010. Will the incumbent party’s negatives–an unpopular administration in the second midterm–and the slimmest of Republican efforts be enough to hang on? The key counties in Colorado will tell us tonight which party made the necessary investments and upgrades over their previous efforts to deliver wins across the ticket tonight.
3. Battleground counties to watch: Not how many but from where
The top 12 battleground counties in Colorado–Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, Mesa, Pueblo, and Weld–contain more than 85 percent of the state’s active registered voters. Turnout in key Democratic counties like Boulder and Denver counties and Republican strongholds like Douglas and El Paso counties will dominate the news coverage, both early in the evening when mostly Republican votes are tallied, and later on, when Democratic-leaning areas turn in their results. As a result, I would expect larger Republican leads, if they have one after polls close, to be in evidence earlier in the evening, when those early votes get quickly reported. If Democratic-leaning precincts lag in reporting, the end result will be a gradual tapering of any Republican lead.
Remember, it’s not the outstanding number of possible ballots statewide that are key, but where they are coming from as the night progresses. I would encourage folks to take a look at bellwether counties like Arapahoe and Jefferson instead, where Republicans held sway over a decade ago but have since lost considerable ground. These are large and competitive counties which should mirror the final statewide results. The candidate who wins one, or both, of these counties is likely to win the state regardless of what happens in the remaining counties. Others to watch: Broomfield and Larimer counties. Broomfield’s smaller voting population should yield quicker results, and Larimer county just narrowly turned away Cory Gardner in 2010.
And don’t forget Pueblo. Site of one of the 2013 recall elections, Republicans have seen a surge in early voting turnout, well beyond 2010 levels. Is it a local anomaly or sign of a statewide GOP surge?
4. Polis/Hickenlooper fracking referendum
Many believed the August removal of controversial anti-fracking measures promoted and underwritten by Rep. Jared Polis allowed Democrats to avert a disaster in November. Millions of dollars were being stocked up for a ballot battle, and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 11th hour compromise appeared to be the solution. But Polis and Hickenlooper were not without critics from their own eco-left, who mocked the decision as a sign of stolen democracy. Will their be any green backlash against Polis and Hickelooper in eco-left areas like Boulder. Did kicking the can on fracking to a commission allow the Democrats to escape a wedge issue? Polis’s numbers in CD2 haven’t been as overwhelming as his predecessor, Udall’s. Even though he’s expected to win, will he be able to match his 2012 vote percentage of just above 55 percent? Will the fracking issue, the ballot measure removal, and the controversial commission drag on Hickenlooper?
5. Vote snafus, slow reporting
After Florida in 2000, it appears anything can happen. But looking at recent Colorado history, there have been hiccups that have thrown ballot counts off and caused consternation for pundits. Most recently, Pueblo county’s clerk and recorder page went down repeatedly during the 2013 recall, delaying results. In 2010, a mistyped entry in Boulder county resulted in a 40,000 vote bump for Ken Buck, which was corrected after everyone scratched their head at the amazing, but incorrect, figures. That snafu gave Buck a large early lead in a county that he would not win. Once reversed, his prospects narrowed, as did the numbers. Again, it’s important where the votes are coming from, not just how many.
Earlier today voters encountered issues in Arapahoe county and with the state’s SCORE system. Any county or state apparatus not running on all cylinders will complicate the evening, drawing out the results. Likewise, counties slow to tabulate their votes will also lengthen the evening, especially if the races turn out to be the neck-and-neck statistical ties predicted in polling.