It was a sure thing. And the rematch was a sure thing as well.
But we’ll get back to that.
Democrats and most of the news media have already declared the 2020 Colorado Senate race over and done with.
Oh, sure, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner has more than $10 million in the bank, and he has been lauded by Democratic Governor Jared Polis for their collaborative work on the coronavirus pandemic. He has a long litany of Colorado accomplishments such as securing permanent financing for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, getting the United States Space Command headquarters located in Colorado Springs, authorizing funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit water improvement project that had been delayed for almost sixty years, and relocating the national headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction from Washington, D.C.
But everyone knows the general election is a mere formality even though the recent primary election exposed former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s ethical lapses and profound weaknesses as a candidate. This is a sure thing!
Hickenlooper defeated underfunded Andrew Romanoff not because of his dogged pursuit of the nomination — he claimed he couldn’t debate because he needed his sleep — but because the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C. spent $7 million to drag him across the line.
Hickenlooper is owed this Senate seat! This is a sure thing!
And everyone knows that Colorado is now a deep blue state that will never again elect another Republican for statewide office. Just ask the newly arrived Democratic Socialist political activists who think Colorado politics began when they showed up.
Wasn’t Colorado an impregnable Republican bastion before Democrats started winning in 2004? A little political history:
When Gov. Bill Owens — the only Republican governor in the last fifty years — was elected in 1998, Democrats had won six consecutive gubernatorial elections since 1974. Only two Republicans, Senators Bill Armstrong and Hank Brown, had won Senate elections between 1970 and 1994. So much for being a Republican bastion.
So when U.S. Sen. Hank Brown announced he would not seek reelection in 1996, Democrats were giddy. Winning the seat was a foregone conclusion with the formidable Republican incumbent out of the way.
Their giddiness went into overdrive when conservative Congressman Wayne Allard, a soft-spoken veterinarian from Loveland, won the Senate nomination over a respected Republican attorney general.
Meanwhile, Democrats nominated a powerful, wealthy lawyer-lobbyist straight from Denver’s 17th Street power corridor, Tom Strickland, whose campaign said when they had won the primary that the general election was in the bag as well. They derided Allard as an inferior, inevitable loser to the much more polished Strickland. And early polls did show a substantial Strickland lead. It was a sure thing!
But Colorado voters are discerning, and they were terribly uncomfortable with a candidate whose campaign slogan could have been “conflicts-are-us” as many of Strickland’s lobbying clients were at odds with his public positions. The low-key workhorse Allard ran an aggressive campaign on their professional contrasts, and he won an improbable upset victory.
Dismissing his loss as a lucky fluke by Allard, Strickland ran again in 2002 after trying to polish his resume with a brief tenure as the U.S. Attorney for Colorado. Allard didn’t have a chance this time! This was a sure thing!
But U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard touted several environmental accomplishments while sharpening the contrast of “the veterinarian versus the lobbyist.” Allard was reelected by just about the same margin as he won in 1996.
Democrats will argue that Colorado’s electorate has fundamentally changed in the last decade and indeed it has. More than 800,000 people have moved to Colorado, many of them younger and instinctively liberal, especially on social issues. Unaffiliated voters have exploded to 40% of the electorate while Republicans have slipped behind Democrats.
They will argue that President Trump is like an anchor pulling Gardner into oblivion.
This is a sure thing!
But not all of those unaffiliated voters — even those who vote for Biden over Trump — will buy off on this “sure thing” Senate race. They are unaffiliated for a reason. They shy away from partisan labels, and they will give Senator Cory Gardner a fair hearing. Meanwhile, John “Ethics-Laws-Are-for-Other-People” Hickenlooper will continue to be unfocused and uninspiring.
The race is already tightening. A respected national polling firm, Morning Consult, shows the Hickenlooper lead has slipped to just six points, 48-42.
Cory Gardner is once again the aggressive, young, dynamic challenger, and Hickenlooper is the tired, old, self-entitled, ethically challenged incumbent.
The ghost of Tom Strickland haunts Hickenlooper.
Dick Wadhams is a Republican political consultant and former Colorado Republican State Chair. He managed campaigns for both Gov. Bill Owens and U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard.