23 July 2010

We Voted But Not In Colorado's Interesting Races

Our household's primary election ballots hit the post box today. Summer primary elections are a context when mail in ballots really show their worth. Lots of people are on vacation in early August (including my dear spouse), but with a mail in ballot, it doesn't matter and there is no need to go to the hassle of getting an absentee ballot.

As Democrats in a precinct where there is only one contested race (Romanoff v. Bennet for U.S. Senate) it was a bit anti-climatic. All the fun fireworks this season seem to be on the GOP side and in the contested state legislature primary races.

The race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination just gets more and more absurd.

McInnis has melted down. He has admitted to submitting plagiarized articles to a top GOP fundraiser in exchange for $300,000, and that he needs to return the money as a result; and both the top GOP fundraiser involved and the person who provided the materials that McInnis plagiarized have publicly denounced him. Three of his top paid staffers, all formerly affiliated with Tom Tancredo, have quit. His staff may not get paid. His fund raising has screeched to a halt. The fact that he paid his wife more than $30,000 to be his campaign manager at a point in time when he had already decided he wasn't running for re-election has resurfaced. Every major paper in the state has urged him to drop out of the race, as has former GOP Congressman Tom Tancredo. His poll numbers have plummeted. He has no hope of being the next Governor of the State of Colorado. He'll be lucky to keep his day job as a lobbyist with his credibility so completely destroyed.

Dan Maes has been excoriated by the Denver Post for his campaign finance malfeasance and incompetence as a person. The Post is convinced that he has no clue about anything having to do with state government. His claims that he is a successful businessman have been undermined by tax records that show that he is instead a struggling entrepreneur; not a dishonorable thing in and of itself, but a qualification that he has vastly oversold on the campaign trail.

Tom Tancredo is threatening to run on the American Constitution Party ticket (thereby splitting the conservative vote in the general election) if McInnis and Maes don't drop out of the race.

Republican leaders and the newspapers seem to want everybody to drop out so that a white knight can come forward to serve as a more credible opponent to Democrat John Hickenlooper in the race, but I just don't see that happening.

It is hard to see Maes losing the GOP primary to McInnis, and I don't see him dropping out if he wins the primary. It isn't obvious to me that state election law allows someone who has been registered to vote as a Republican to run as a third party candidate or as an unaffiliated candidate this late in the game, or to replace a primary candidate when another person is running for the party's nomination in the same race. Yet, all the viable candidates do have party affiliations.

At this point, the last best hope of the GOP in the Governor's race would be for Republicans to vote strategically for McInnis, for him to drop out after winning the primary, and for the party to fill the open nominee spot via a vacancy committee. But, I don't think that the GOP is capable is pulling off a strategic voting campaign on that scale. Lots of voters have ballots in hand already and Republican primary voters are even more likely than Democrats to cast their votes shortly after receiving their ballots. It is too late for Republicans to unite around a plan to vote for McInnis and replace him, particularly when McInnis claims to be still in the race and not planning on dropping out, and when no one replacement nominee has come to the fore.

Maes was more popular than McInnis with the party faithful at the state GOP convention. A lot of Republicans genuinely prefer Maes, and not much has happened since the state convention that would change the opinion that the kind of Republicans who liked Maes then. Lots of GOP primary voters who are ambivalent about Maes are going to decide that McInnis is hopeless and that Maes is the lesser of two evils. Similarly, many Republicans who might have voted for McInnis simply because they thought that he was more electable, even though they preferred Maes, may not feel liberated to vote for the candidate that they actually prefer.

Given what we know about the candidates now, in November, Hickenlooper will easily defeat Maes running as the Republican nominee, McInnis running as the Republican nominee, or Tom Tancredo running as a third party or unaffiliated candidate. The odds that any other opposition will emerge remain remote, and even then any would be Republican nominee is starting from scratch late in the game against one of the strongest candidates for Governor that the Democratic party has ever nominated.

The debacle in the Republican Governor's race has implication for beyond that race itself. Normally, expectations about how the top of the ticket races will play out drive turnout from the party faithful. It also damps campaign contributions and volunteer enthusiasm. Normally, the campaign for Governor carries the job of coordinating a lot of the get out the vote effort for the party as a whole. If Republicans believe that they are doomed to lose the Governor's race, all Republicans in Colorado and all conservative leaning ballot measures will suffer.

Also, even if Republicans do vote, many moderate Republicans, who are make up a decent share of the rank and file of the party, even though they are rarely seen in the party machine or elected office, will vote for Hickenlooper rather than Maes in the Governor's race. And, someone who ends up splitting their ticket in that race may be more prone to splitting their ticket in other races as well. The McInnis meltdown has put some people who otherwise would have been automatic straight party ticket voters into play. This could be a real problem for John Suthers, the incumbent Republican attorney general who is running for re-election whose Willie Horton-like misstep brought Democrat Stan Garnett into the race has a heavy weight opponent.

Conversely, Democrats, assured of at least one big win, are likely to feel charged up to participate in this year's campaigns.

Another consequence of the McInnis meltdown may be more immediate. Some otherwise likely Republican primary voters will decided as a result of the controversy to simply not vote at all. But, conservatives activists and diehards being the people that they are, will vote in the primary no matter what. That gives an edge to the candidates perceived as further to the right on the Republican primary ballot.

It helps Ken Buck in his race against Jane Norton in the Republican U.S. Senate nomination race, for example. Then again, Ken Buck, apparently craving the attention that is fellow party members in the Governor's race have secured has developed a new slogan: vote for me because "I don't wear high heels." Last time I checked, the whole "women don't deserve to hold higher office" thing hasn't been very effective with voters in Colorado, which was one of the first to give women the right to vote and has one of the highest percentages of female office holders in the nation. Maybe he's sore that he didn't win Sarah Palin's endorsement when she was in Denver.

It may influence the Republican primary campaigns for the nominations in the state treasurer's race and the 7th Congressional District race, although I don't know either of those races well enough to discern who is favored if the GOP primary electorate is shifted to the right. None of these candidates, however, have much hope of winning in November against the incumbent Democrats in any case.

A failure of the GOP to make gains in Colorado in November would be a serious blow to the meme that the blue wave that swept Obama and the largest Democratic majorities in Congress in decades has completely evaporated. Everyone expects that Democrats will lose some ground in Congress in 2010. This almost always happens to the party in power in an off year election. But, if that shift isn't as great as expected, the Democrats and the Obama administration will be able to continue to govern effectively for another two years.

1 comment:

Jude said...

Since I live in the same county where McInnis spent his formative years, and in fact, he was my ex-husband's divorce attorney, I've been following his career closely. When he entered Congress as part of the Contract with America crowd, the local headline quoted him as pronouncing, "We'll gut the Clean Air Act!" I could never understand how anyone could grow up in the mountains of Colorado and be so anti-environmentalist. If he won the primary, I planned to install a sign on my yard that said *ANYONE* except McInnis, but fortunately everyone else has finally figured out who he really is. That would have been one ineffectual and corrupt administration.