In November 2012, Colorado’s political landscape looked different. John Hickenlooper was one of the most popular governors in the country, held up by both sides as the ideal of a moderate Democrat. He had avoided politicizing the Aurora theater shooting, and he received a C grade on CATO’s fiscal report card (higher than many Democrats). Though he had created special tax breaks for the movie industry, he also hadn’t done much to raise the taxes of normal Coloradans.
In November 2012, Governor Hickenlooper had a split legislature. It’s easy to be a moderate governor, avoiding signing any extreme bills, when the Senate won’t let any radical bills or tax increases through the legislature to be signed. All he had to do was keep quiet and let the Senate make him look good. So when the state legislature swung all blue last election, it became very clear that this would be the year which determined whether Hickenlooper would stand up to the extreme bills and keep his reputation (and likely run for president), or fall in line with his party and reveal himself to be either radical or spineless.
The latter happened, and whether the Governor is radical or spineless, the all-blue legislature has not helped him. Though he was polling as one of the most popular governors in the country last fall, by April 2013 his popularity ratings according to PPP had taken a shocking 20 point dive. His disapproval ratings had skyrocketed from 26% to 44%. Suddenly, he was barely hitting 50% against any potential Republican rival.
The bad news continued this week, when a new poll by Colorado-based Ciruli and Associates showed that only 30% of his own party and 20% of Independents thought he should run for president, though he was considered a potentially strong contender both locally and nationally before. A Quinnipac poll also released this month showed that, even before campaigning started, Hickenlooper was polling neck and neck with both his top Republican contenders, Tom Tancredo and Scott Gessler.
This is particularly interesting because both Tancredo and Gessler have somewhat controversial names. Tancredo has been a major Colorado name since his time as a congressman from 1999-2009, during which time he also ran for president. He is known for his outspoken, firebrand-type style, and this didn’t diminish in 2010 when he ran as a third party candidate for governor, ultimately getting more votes than the Republican nominee, who had refused to drop out after a series of scandals.
Scott Gessler is Colorado’s current secretary of state, and while his style is much more reserved, he has endured his fair share of criticism over his handling of voter issues. He has been fairly strong in defending the state’s anti-voter fraud mechanisms, but has been accused of misspending taxpayer money. He polls one percentage point weaker against Hickenlooper than Tancredo does, though all of Tancredo’s controversies have been known for years and Gessler hasn’t been heavily scrutinized yet.
It will be interesting to see how the 2014 governor’s race plays out. Colorado’s 2010 elections got national recognition for the bizarre three-way race that emerged between Maes, Tancredo and Hickenlooper, and the state has not spent much time out of the spotlight since.
For more articles by Sarah Tanksalvala, click here. For continuing notifications of Boulder County political news, subscribe for email alerts, or follow STanksalvala on Twitter.