There will be no need for manicure appointments this week for the four candidates involved in Colorado's gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races — because Election Night is expected to be a real nail-biter.
“This is one of the most exciting …
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“This is one of the most exciting elections in Colorado history,” said Bob Loevy, a longtime state political observer and political science professor from Colorado College. “I can't recall a governor's race and a Senate race neck-and-neck, right at the same time.”
The question for the Democratic incumbents, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall, is whether they will be able to ride out an expected national Republican wave on Nov. 4.
Loevy said the wave historically is a reliable one, and it's one that could sweep U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner into the Senate and could help former Congressman Bob Beauprez become the next governor of Colorado.
Loevy calls it the “six-year pushback,” which occurs every sixth year of a U.S. presidency. The pushback is born from a midterm election political environment that historically favors the party that does not control the White House.
Loevy said the wave goes back as far as 1938, when Democrats lost seats in Congress during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency. More recently, Democrats dominated the 2006 midterm elections, which were held during George W. Bush's sixth year as president.
Bill Clinton proved to be the exception in 1998, when Democrats performed well during that year's mid-term election cycle, a result of voter backlash against the perceived overreach of Republicans' response to Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
The wave doesn't just just impact federal races, Loevy said.
“If you back me into a corner, I would say I think the Republicans are going to win the governorship because of the six-year pushback,” he said.
If that happens, Hickenlooper supporters surely will be asking themselves how things ever got to that point.
“That would be most inexplicable to me,” said Eric Sondermann, an independent political analyst. “If you would have told people six months ago that when ballots are being sent to mailboxes, it would be a dead-heat race, a lot of people would have taken that bet.”
Odds did not favor a Republican gubernatorial win this spring. Hickenlooper's quirky personality and his insistence on never running a negative campaign seemed to resonate with voters through the early part of his first term.
The state's economy had been gaining steam under Hickenlooper's stewardship, and early Republican primary polls showed polarizing former Congressman Tom Tancredo leading the pack of GOP primary hopefuls.
Instead it was Beauprez who won the nomination in June — the man tagged as “both ways Bob” when he was badly beaten by Bill Ritter in the 2006 gubernatorial race. Beauprez's baggage from his previous run left Hickenlooper supporters feeling good about their chances come November.
However, for months, the Beauprez campaign has hammered away at Hickenlooper's perceived lack of leadership in several areas. At the top of that list was the governor's decision to grant a reprieve for death-row inmate Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant in 1993. Hickenlooper received criticism for taking a middle path rather than going forward with either an execution or clemency.
The governor also caused a media stir over the summer during a gathering of state sheriffs, where he fumbled comments on gun-control legislation that he signed into law the year before.
Meanwhile, Beauprez has mostly run a mistake-free campaign. But will that be enough to take down a likable governor of a state that typically doesn't oust incumbents from the job?
Norman Provizer, a political science professor at Metropolitan State University, said Beauprez seems to have learned from his “disastrous” 2006 bid and that part of his strategy this time is to simply stay out of Hickenlooper's way while the governor makes mistakes on the campaign trail.
“It's basically don't do anything stupid and don't say very much,” Provizer said.
Sondermann agrees, but added that Beauprez needs to do more than that in order to be successful Nov. 4.
“He's been the person standing by the side of train tracks and seeing if the freight train derails,” Sondermann said of Beauprez's campaign strategy. “If it does, you're there to pick up the pieces. Is the passive strategy enough to get him to get over the finish line or does he need a closer? My instinct is he needs a closer.”
Women's rights in spotlight
Meanwhile, the Udall-Gardner match-up has been one of the most closely followed Senate races in the country.
Women's issues have dominated the campaign, with the Udall team launching an early-and-often advertising blitz against Gardner, which has attempted to paint the conservative congressman as being out of touch or too extreme on issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights.
But Udall has been criticized for having run what some perceive to be a one-issue campaign that is obsessed with capturing support of women voters.
Provizer surmises that the Udall campaign must be seeing internal polling numbers that show the attacks against Gardner are working and that “it's always a good political move to define your opponent.”
“But it became so much of it that it lost its effectiveness,” Provizer said.
Also possibly working against Udall are recent crises outside of his control that could favor Republicans this fall. Whether that's fair to Democrats is another story.
Analysts agree that the rise of ISIS-backed terrorism in the Middle East and questions over the government's response to the ongoing Ebola virus threat may help Republicans on Nov. 4, because those developments happened on Obama's watch.
“Just weeks before ballots are mailed out in Colorado, those are about the two worst things to happen to Democrats, not only for what happened, but the timing,” Loevy said.
“It is awfully a tough year to be carrying the Democrat banner, particularly in a federal race,” Sondermann added. “The bloom has fallen off the rose for Obama, there's ISIS, Ebola ... there's just very little good news for any Democrat.”
But Democrats still have a major advantage going for them that gives supporters hope — the vaunted Democratic get-out-the-vote machine.
Democrats have lapped Republicans in voter efforts in recent elections, and their outreach to women and Latino voters helped Michael Bennet win a close 2010 Senate contest that he had been trailing in polls leading up to Election Day.
“Everyone talks about this modern-day political, technological war out there,” Provizer said. “But there still remains a World War I aspect about a campaign, and that's trench warfare on the ground.”
Whatever happens on Nov. 4, political observers say they will be enjoying the show.
“Stepping aside from who might win and lose, what an election,” Loevy said. “You can't ask for anything more than that.”
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