Once mentioned as a potential national leader for his party, Colorado's Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper now finds himself in political hot water as he prepares to run for re-election next year.
The biggest reason for Hickenlooper's fall from grace in the Centennial State is his issuing of a temporary reprieve for notorious convicted killer Nathan Dunlap three months before he was due to be executed.
Dunlap, who killed four employees at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 1993 was set to be the first person executed in Colorado in 15 years, but Hickenlooper's decision means he is unlikely to be put to death while the Democrat is in the governor's mansion.
But a new governor could overturn the decision and issue the death warrant — a scenario that appeals to voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll that showed 67 percent disapproved of the temporary reprieve decision.
The same poll showed Hickenlooper barely staving off (42 percent to 41 percent) a challenge from former Rep. Tom Tancredo, who placed second to Hickenlooper while running as an independent in 2010 after the Republican candidate's campaign fizzled amid several controversies.
And it said the governor would only just edge Secretary of State Scott Gessler (42 percent to 40 percent) and State Sen. Greg Brophy (43 percent to 37 percent). All three have announced for or are exploring a bid for the Republican nomination for governor.
A further sign of Hickenlooper's weakness came last week when Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler told the Denver Post he too was "seriously considering" a run for the Republican nomination.
Brauchler was only elected the county's top prosecutor last fall and is now handling the nationally-watched case against James Holmes, charged with killing 12 people in an Aurora movie theater.
Brauchler attacked Hickenlooper's decision in the Dunlap case for neither confirming the execution nor commuting the sentence outright, suggesting he is averse to making tough decisions.
"The governor is a nice man. I think he wants to be a friend. I think he wants to be an adviser," said Brauchler "But at the end of the day, no one elected him to be the state bartender. They elected him to be governor."
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