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The Nation's Political Testing Ground: Colorado Elections & Candidates

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The 2010 election year in Colorado presents the opportunity to test many political theories which will have national implications. The challenge will be in sorting out which factors and variables are responsible for the results which already are guaranteed to be surprising if not shocking. And there already is no question that 2010 has been one of the craziest political years Coloradans have seen in decades. Here is a sampling.

The Big Trends

Are all politics national? Can the national trend against anyone with a "D" after his or her name overwhelm local events? If there is a tidal wave in favor of Republicans on November 2nd, will it be massive enough to carry Republican gubernatorial candidates Dan Maes or Scott McInnis over the top despite the hefty anchors securely strapped by themselves to their own bodies? And will the U.S. Senate race in Colorado be tipped to Republicans by the anti-Democratic wave or will Democrats somehow have convinced voters they have done a good job in Washington? And, even if they did such a good job, will voters worried about the poor state of the Economy believe them?

The Democratic U.S. Senate Primary

Can service beat money? Former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff's primary election challenge of incumbent but never-elected U.S. Senator Michael Bennet offers a number of tests. The first is whether or not Democrats will turn out a sitting Senator of their own party with whom they agree on almost all issues. The second is the chance to assess the political value of being Speaker. Historically, legislative leadership positions haven't translated impressively in statewide races. The third is whether Democrats remain upset with Governor Bill Ritter's selection of Bennet over Romanoff, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and a host of others who were known and liked better than Bennet. (Coincidentally, by not selecting Hickenlooper, Ritter did Democrats a favor because the Mayor would not have been a candidate for Governor if he were a U.S. Senator.) The fourth is whether or not Bennet's huge financial advantage, anchored by his prodigious fundraising, can overwhelm the initially better-known Romanoff.

Will "don't change horses in mid-stream" prevail? Michael Bennet's key argument is there are no major policy differences between himself and Andrew Romanoff. Therefore, if he is the incumbent Senator, why should Democrats make a switch? On the surface, this is a convincing argument and puts Romanoff in a defensive position to argue why fellow Democrats should dump Bennet. The strategy could backfire as Democrats fill out their ballots. Voting "with their minds", many know it makes sense to support Bennet. Voting "with their hearts, some Democrats are likely to select Romanoff.

Power of the presidency: part 1? President Barack Obama elected to intervene in the U.S. Senate race as soon as Bennet had a competitor. Will Obama be a positive or negative influence? With a slew of campaign-ending television advertisements featuring Obama touting Bennet as his candidate (which won't help Bennet in the General Election), both Obama and the Bennet campaign have made it clear they want Democrats to demonstrate their support of the President by casting their ballots for Bennet. Romanoff has been careful to avoid all criticism of the President and to call for unity no matter who the victor is but Obama's involvement -- seen by some as "Washington telling Coloradans what to do" -- may have reinforced the displeasure many Democrats had when Governor Bill Ritter originally selected Bennet over such Democratic stalwarts as Romanoff and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

Power of the presidency: part 2? Another fascinating test in the Democratic Primary Election of the measure of the power of the presidency not just the sheer number of appearances, letters, and Cabinet member visits arranged by the White House. Rather it is the President's decision to give Bennet his campaign organization -- Organizing for America and its thousands of members in Colorado who crafted Obama's 2008 victory in Colorado (the first Democrat to win a majority of the state's votes in decades). Obama even did a Town Hall forum via phone with the Senator and tens of thousands of Coloradans just days before the primary election. If Romanoff somehow overcomes this extraordinary advantage for Bennet, it will be one of the most stunning upsets in Colorado political history. It also will be a similarly extraordinary statement about the President's power and influence within his own party.

Which President is #1 among Democrats?
A sidebar to the race is the fact President Bill Clinton endorsed Romanoff late in the campaign. During the final days of the contest, electors received robo-calls from Clinton lauding Romanoff's accomplishments and capabilities --- describing the former Colorado Speaker of the House as one of the most gifted and successful legislators in the entire nation. Although Clinton's effort supporting his candidate was not even a tenth of Obama's, the juxtaposition of the candidates and their presidential supporters could not go unnoticed.

Power of the press: act 1? There also is no question the state's most influential media entity, The Denver Post , not only has endorsed Bennet but has been hammering Romanoff unmercifully. When The Post slammed Romanoff for appearing to waiver on his commitment to not take Political Action Committee money due to a statement by his campaign manager and then hit Romanoff even harder for his inappropriate use of the word "looting" when describing some of Bennet's business transactions, it had to hurt Romanoff. Simultaneously, it almost totally ignored Bennet's totally unfounded claims and television advertising attacks on Romanoff for allegedly supporting the privatization of Social Security (when, in fact, he actually opposed it). If Romanoff loses, it will demonstrate, in part, the power of The Post. If he wins, it will be one more success for Romanoff against a dominant establishment entity.

The Republican U.S. Senate Primary

Is the Tea Party a real force? Republican Ken Buck's U.S. Senate campaign and Dan Maes' gubernatorial campaign initially were seen as good tests of the power of those disenchanted electors who consider themselves aligned with the principles of the various Tea Party groups. They offered a measure of the strength of these generally well-educated, above average income citizens concerned primarily about out-of-control federal spending. Buck's recent description of some Tea Party members promoting the controversy about President Obama's citizenship status as "dumbasses" and Maes' egregious campaign finance violations, however, may have alienated some of those aligned with the Tea Party movement. It still will be interesting to see what their influence is, especially at the Primary Election level.

How much will Buck's mistakes hurt? Will Ken Buck's now infamous "Vote for me because I don't wear high heels" or "Tea Party members who keep asking about Obama's birth are dumbasses given the fact we face a $13 trillion National Debt" comments (paraphrased here) cost him enough votes to lose the Primary to former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton or will Republican voters discount the accusations of sexism and vulgarity against Buck's Tea Party base and still embrace him? Few are likely to watch his entire speeches and take him only as seriously as he was taking himself but many will see the short segments Norton is using in television ads which make Buck look very bad. And will Norton's campaign have recovered from its initial doldrums in time to win the contest? And which one of these candidates actually did cut the budgets of his or her own departments while in office? Republican voters have two good candidates from which to choose so will the budget-related facts alone make it close or be altogether irrelevant?

The Republican Gubernatorial Primary

Is Tancredo an afterthought? Former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo should not be underestimated by anyone but the real question is "Will he stay in the race?" After switching parties just days before the primary election to become the nominee of the almost unheard of American Constitution Party as a way to get on the ballot, It is obvious he is highly unlikely to win election. Nevertheless, Tancredo easily will could draw nine votes away from the Republican nominee for every single vote he captures from the Democratic nominee. While some Democrats are concerned about illegal immigration -- Tancredo's primary issues -- and will support a Tancredo bid, they will be dwarfed by his Republican and unaffiliated voter support. Because Tancredo knows he is destroying his relationship with the Republican Party and helping Democratic nominee John Hickenlooper to victory (and knows victory as the American Constitution Party candidate will never be within reach), will Tancredo exit the stage he loves so much in time for a Republican to compete with Hickenlooper?

Part 2: Is the pen mightier than the TV ad? What effect will the impact be of The Denver Post stories and editorials about gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis? How powerful is The Post? While its article content was highly accurate, there is no question The Post went after McInnis with an all-out effort. The volume of its coverage dwarfed that of every other newspaper in the State. Its headlines often were brutal (e.g., "McInnis Lying" -- without the quotation marks was, perhaps, the most excessive). Its front-page placements were exceptional. It was accused of burying partially exculpatory evidence which mitigated some of the claims against McInnis. And its editorial calling for McInnis to resign from the race was extraordinary. While The Post certainly could justify the journalistic decisions it made, some still were beyond the pale. What was impressive was the sheer force of its effort. The question now is "What effect will this journalistic fusillade have?"

How much does the electorate care? While many Coloradans understandably are upset with McInnis's uncontested plagiarism violations (for which he was paid an also ludicrous $300,000 by a foundation), how many know about them? How many who do know, don't care? And how many citizens are not even paying attention to the Republican primary anyway? If citizens are well-informed about the events to date, are they are likely to slaughter McInnis at the polls? Polling to date shows the charges already have cost McInnis fully half his support but not enough to count him out of the primary election. And, if he wins the Primary, could he make a comeback? Will voters in November forget what happened this summer?

Mortally wallet-wounded? Did the revelations of plagiarism fatally wound McInnis, especially as far as his fundraising is concerned? That is, if financial supporters see McInnis as "damaged goods," they are likely to (a) not donate to his campaign or severely reduce their contributions (i.e., a $1,000 donation becomes $100) or not give money to the 501, 504 and 527 organizations supporting his candidacy. The McInnis campaign already reported a cliff-like drop in campaign contributions. Will that experience continue or will he make a financial comeback if he wins the Primary? With Democratic nominee John Hickenlooper already proving to be a prodigious fundraiser, McInnis could find himself in a huge hole even if he wins the primary election. Will the Republicans hunger for the Governor's Mansion be so extraordinary it will overcome their disappointment in their nominee?

Demotivating? If McInnis wins the Primary Election, will he be able to rally the Republican faithful? Will Republican activists give 100% or is 25% more likely to be the average if the troops are demotivated? How will that affect other Republican candidates further down the ticket? Will a demotivated Republican Party mean less money for other candidates? Will it allow Hickenlooper to allocate precious resources to help Democratic candidates in key legislative races so as to help Democrats maintain control of the State House and Senate?

Do two wrongs make a right? With Republican gubernatorial and top-line candidate Dan Maes paying a historically high campaign reporting fine of $17,500, will his mistakes cancel out those made by McInnis as far as Republican primary Eeection voters are concerned? Faced with the choice of two flawed candidates, how will Republicans sort out their choices? To date, it appears Maes lost far less support than McInnis did but their race remains close.

How much does experience count? Revelations that Dan Maes is an Average Joe financially were used to discredit his claims of business expertise but few Republicans seem to have deserted him despite the fact he did not have any stunning business successes to back up the impression he gave many that he was a successful businessperson. Will voters in either the Primary or General Election care when his limited business experience and success are contrasted with the business, civic, charitable, and government successes of John Hickenlooper? The fact Maes has survived at all in this terrible Economy may be all he needs to make his case.

U.N. Takeover. Will Maes' comments about the United Nations taking over Colorado through the City of Denver's bicycle share-a-bike program cost him votes or will black-helicopter conspiracists rally to his side and help him win the vote? I can't wait for the anti-Maes General Election television ads on this one! "Do you want to elect a Governor who thinks bicycles are part of a United Nations' plot to take over America, one small step --- or pedal --- at a time?"

Will Mcinnis be the ultimate "comeback kid?" There is no question that, if McInnis wins the Primary and General Elections, he will have overcome incredible odds and mounted the greatest comeback and total point swing in contemporary Colorado political history. No one in the pundit class is predicting his election so a McInnis victory on November 2nd would be seen as a tremendous upset.

These questions and more may be answered in the August 10th and November 2nd elections but it is likely there are even more complications in store.

Aaron Harber hosts "The Aaron Harber Show" seen on Channel 3 KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado) on Sundays at 8:00 pm and at www.HarberTV.com. He also hosts "Colorado Election 2010 TM" seen Sundays at 8:30 pm on Channel 3 and on Mondays at 8:00 pm on COMCAST Entertainment Television and is viewable 24/7 at www.Colorado2010.com. Send e-mail to Aaron@HarberTV.com. (C) Copyright 2010 by USA Talk Network, Inc. and Aaron Harber All rights reserved.

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