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Insights: CU political report suggests it's a chilly year for Republicans

February 10, 2018 Updated: February 11, 2018 at 5:23 pm
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Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Trish Zornio. (Photo courtesy of Caitlin Rice.)

The headline from the newly released Colorado Political Climate Survey is that Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, as well as the governor and the Legislature, are slipping in popularity.

The report includes a buffet for politicos to chew on, including whether they believe the forecast that shows a chilly Colorado for incumbents, especially Republicans who have a 239-pound "stable genius" on their back.

The findings from CU's American Politics Research Lab, however, suggest it's not a good year to wander too far to the right on the campaign trail.

Republican political operatives rolled out big time against the survey to undermine the findings, nicking it on methodology, first that the sample was 47 percent Democrats, 33 percent Republicans and 20 percent independents. In reality, the three are relatively even.

Most of the CU survey doesn't break out the results by race. On a question about race relations, respondents who said they were a racial minority outnumbered white respondents more than 2 to 1 - in a state that's 81 percent white.

That all can be true, but in the "cry wolf" realm, spin doctors complaining about the methodology of an unflattering poll is as much a part of the political game as a punt is to football.

The findings seem consistent with other polls. The CU survey put Trump's approval rating in Colorado at 34 percent. That's not significantly lower than the president's national polling numbers, 38.4 percent approval, with includes his solid support across the Deep South.

Last November, about the same time that CU was asking questions, The Keating Colorado Poll collected public opinions that indicated 64 percent of Coloradans had an unfavorable view of Trump. The Keating poll was close to evenly divided between party affiliations, plus those polled were 72 percent white.

My experienced brain knows it's not a great year to run as a Trump ally.

Don't believe me? Listen to Tom Tancredo, the most optimistic man in politics who dropped out of the race in late January, because he couldn't raise money.

"It will be hard for any Republican to win this state," he told CBS4.

This year unaffiliated voters can cast ballots in party primaries, which makes it even more unpredictable and perilous to chum up to the president's more divisive positions on immigration, women or Russian meddling.

Trump got only 34 percent support from independent voters in a Gallup poll, while presidents have typically gotten 60 percent from them after a year.

Gardner has done a good job to support the Republican agenda and yet keep his distance when the president and his base steer the GOP into the danger zone.

After a year in which the billionaire who Gardner once called a "buffoon" occupied the White House, the amicable politician from Yuma saw his approval rating slide from 43 percent to 25 percent. Only 46 percent of Republicans are in his corner, the CU survey suggested.

But Gardner is where the cracks in the CU poll show up. The Keating poll the same month had Gardner 44 percent approval. A month before, the Morning Consult poll ranked Gardner one of the 10 biggest losers in approval ratings slides, down 18 points to 39 percent approval among Colorado voters.

If that's the Trump burden on Gardner, it should have the attention of politicians who aren't nearly as skilled or well-liked as Cory.

There's all kinds of talk, which will now only get louder, about which home-run establishment Democrat will challenge Gardner in 2020. Names that get thrown around: Hickenlooper, House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, off the top of my head.

But if she can put together the money and political infrastructure, University of Colorado scientist Trish Zornio would be a bright, likeable candidate Coloradans have been known to embrace. And maybe her time is right. Democrats refused to break from the party's unspoken line of succession in 2016 and funneled the nomination to Hillary Clinton, when the passion was behind a 75-year-old New England socialist named Bernie.

Congress could only wish for Gardner's numbers. Only 14 percent of the representative sample of Coloradans approved of the job performance of the legislative branch. This one is the least troubling. Americans have this innate blind spot to separate Congress, the institution, from the person they send there.

You could call it the Mike Coffman Effect, because the independent-minded congressman from a diverse swing district has proven hard to beat. If it's a wave year for Democrats, the tide would have to rise pretty high to take out buoyant Mike. That could be the watermark for what kind of year this is.

Incumbent Republican legislators - in a small pool of competitive districts - will need to conjure up some magic Mike, looking at the CU report. A year ago the General Assembly had a 51 percent approval rating. This year it's 43 percent. Democrats are still at 60 percent, but Republicans got only 27.

Look, it's still four seasons until next November, and nothing is as unpredictable as politics and weather. The mind of the voter is like chasing autumn leaves, but right now they're blowing to the left.

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