Now that the Associated Press is reporting that Governor Bill Ritter won't run for reelection, it's likely some Democrats will worry that his recusal from the upcoming race portends a dismal, even disastrous, election this fall, at least here in Colorado. Of course, people will surmise and speculate about Governor Ritter's decision. Normally when a first-term governor forgoes the chance of a second term, there are usually whispers of closet skeletons and/or electability swirling around the announcement. And in any given state, the governor's mansion is occasionally a house haunted by rumors - many times as insubstantial as an apparition - of clandestine rituals and rendezvous. Or at least secret handshakes and backroom deals and brawls. In my case, I'm one Democrat less haunted by rumors than elections past. I'm pretty confident the motivation for this announcement is more sagacious than salacious or scandalous. And with the sudden spike of retirements among Democratic lawmakers (Sen. Chris Dodd being the latest) that has prompted a few Democrats to worry and even more Republicans to gloat, it could be that a few purple states, Colorado included, might be shaded (bleeding) red this November. I, for one, am sure as heck hoping it isn't the bloodbath that Republicans and some polls are threatening.
But no matter what this announcement may or may not predict, at least Governor Ritter didn't flip parties and decide to run as a Republican like Alabama's Parker Griffith. There's nothing like a party switch to stoke the partisan flames, as Coloradoans well know. It wasn't all that long ago that former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell agitated (to say the least) Colorado Democrats with his aisle hop, prompting former Rep. Patricia Schroeder to dub him, "Mr. Switchhorse."
Regardless of Governor Ritter's reasoning for exiting the race, it will be a challenge for Democrats to retain the governor's office. Certainly not impossible, but no cakewalk, either. I remember all too well the Democratic drought in the state. Granted, it wasn't always that way. For a couple decades, Coloradoans expected a Democratic governor. Democrats Dick Lamm and Roy Romer occupied the office for a combined total of almost a quarter century. But then, in 1998, Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler lost a nail-biter to then-State Treasurer Bill Owens, and suddenly Republicans dominated statewide races until Ken Salazar triumphed in the 2004 senatorial race. The trend reversed in the last few years. Democrats hold both U.S. Senate seats and the governor's office. For Democrats, it's been an across-the-board victory; welcome shift from the voters' cold shoulder of nearly a decade. But Colorado's electorate is capricious, and the statewide embrace of last November could turn from a hug to a shove.
Especially if Democrats don't assertively dispute and dispel the inaccuracies and fear mongering surrounding everything from health care reform to impending tax hikes. And, of course there is the still sluggish economy. Even if some experts are declaring the recession spent, they're obviously been visiting Wall Street rather than Main Street where unemployment, foreclosures, failed businesses and hard times run rampant through nearly every block. And, unlike 2008, Democrats have the burden of incumbency. We live in a culture of soundbites. Voters have short memories and scant tolerance for nuance, details and context. No matter what and whose policies and deeds initiated today's myriad problems (and, to compound the confusion, there is at least some culpability on both sides of the aisle), voters tend to vent their anger, fear and frustration at the party in power.
Even though Governor Ritter is no longer a target for voter's disapproval - at least at the polls- the Democratic Party is. Especially with Colorado's unpredictable electorate. I can only guess at the reason(s) behind Governor Ritter's decision to not seek reelection. But I don't have to guess at the election results this November if Democrats don't seize the initiative and conversation.