Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Colorado elections - initial thoughts

The anti-incumbency/anti-establishment meme being pushed by the media isn't precisely true, but it's not precisely false, either.  As John Sides notes, very few incumbents are actually losing this year.  But I think it's fair to say they're having to work harder than they normally would.

To the extent we can divine any general trends from Colorado's results, we can see that the top-ballot anointed establishment candidates (Michael Bennet, Scott McInnis, and Jane Norton) had a tough time.  Yes, Bennet won -- quite handily -- but he faced a strong challenge from Andrew Romanoff that forced him to raise and spend and to draw upon national politicians' support a lot more than he'd planned to.  In a different year, going up against an incumbent who had enormous financial resources and the backing of the state's Democratic establishment and the president of the United States would have seemed suicidal.  Romanoff tried it anyway and pulled 46% of the vote.

Over on the Republican side, Jane Norton had basically all of the benefits of the establishment in her corner, but she still couldn't pull it off.  It probably didn't help her that her most prominent endorser was John McCain, who was never that beloved among Colorado's GOP base.  Similarly, establishment candidate Scott McInnis is, as I write this, slightly trailing insurgent Dan Maes.  Yes, we could say that the plagiarism scandal caused this, but Maes also beat McInnis back in the caucus and convention in the spring.

We saw another interesting race in the Republican contest for CD7 CD3, where insider candidate Scott Tipton held off a strong, Palin-backed challenge from Bob McConnell after many observers had written Tipton off.  Again, a tough race that probably wouldn't have happened in a more typical year, even if the insider still won the day.

So we saw substantial challenges to the party's anointed candidates, but those challenges were different across party lines.  On the Republican side, the challengers were notably to the right of the insider candidates (especially in the gubernatorial race), at least partially attributable to an energized Tea Party faction within the GOP.  On the Democratic side, though, Bennet drew a challenger that was almost his ideological twin.  The things that motivated that race -- insider v. outsider, who Gov. Ritter should have picked in the first place, etc. -- had little to do with ideology.

One final point: polling in this election wasn't great.  Those polls showing Buck up by 10 to 15 points were pretty unfounded, as was the recent poll showing Romanoff up by 3.  Of course, it tends to be difficult to poll in a primary, particularly when turnout is so unusually high.  No one was really sure who'd turn out to vote.

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