With less than six weeks to go before Coloradans choose a governor in a race increasingly called historic, polls show the race a dead heat.
A USA Today/Suffolk University
poll of likely voters earlier this month showed Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper leading conservative Republican and former Rep. Bob Beauprez by a margin of 43% to 41% statewide.
A recent Quinnipiac poll of Centennial State voters showed even more stunning results: Beauprez, who lost the governorship in ’06, leads onetime Denver Mayor Hickenlooper by a margin of 50% to 40%.
The poll results raised eyebrows among both parties and explains the historic nature of this contest. No elected governor of Colorado has been defeated for re-election since 1962, when a young Republican attorney and first-time candidate named John Love unseated Democratic Gov. Stephen L.R. McNichols.
"I think this is because of the direction we haven't been going in these past three years," Beauprez told Newsmax last week, "Actions have consequences, and so have inactions."
The former congressman and state GOP chairman was referring to what many feel has been a pattern of indecisiveness exhibited by Hickenlooper since becoming governor in 2011.
Hailed in the national press as a star for his tenure in the Denver City Hall and widely predicted to be a centrist leader as governor, Hickenlooper unveiled an economic agenda that turned out to be a string of conferences across the street. "TBD"—"To Be Determined"– is what this disappointing program was called. It was roundly criticized in the press.
In identifying himself with his state’s controversial new gun control laws, Hickenlooper insisted to reporters he had "no idea" Colorado sheriffs were opposed to it. They were having a press conference near his office, and, upon learning this, the governor simply said he didn’t do his homework and blamed the episode on a staffer.
Hickenlooper also claimed at the time he had never conferred with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a nationally–known supporter of tougher gun control legislation. The governor’s phone records, however, made it clear the two did talk.
"And in a state where energy is a key industry," recalled Beauprez, "[Democratic Rep.] Jared Polis wanted to place some of the toughest regulations on any energy development. It was absolutely draconian and would have ended all oil drilling in Weld County, which is the heart of our exploration for oil."
Hickenlooper, his Republican opponent recalled. "negotiated a deal with Polis to pull his initiatives off the ballot this year but made it clear he will take some action on energy development over which Polis will have veto power. This keeps alive the uncertainty within the energy committee." (Polis has since told reporters he will try to put his initiatives on the statewide ballot next year).
Rather than simply criticize Hickenlooper’s record, Beauprez spelled out to Newsmax his agenda to make Colorado what he called "an open-for-business state."
"I’m certainly not going to raise taxes," he told us, recalling how the governor tried to do just that with a statewide ballot initiative two years ago that was defeated by a margin of 2-to-1 and lost in 62 of the state’s 64 counties, "On my first day as governor, I will sign an executive order stopping all non-essential safety regulations. This is what [Utah] Gov. Gary Herbert did and it increased revenue and job creation. "
Beauprez also vowed to take a page from the book of his state’s last Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who reduced the state income tax and the business and personal property tax. In Beauprez’s words, "actions like that will give us a robust economy and a more sustainable funding for public education."
Along with the sharp contrast in views of the two candidates for governor, the genuinely "up for grabs" nature of the Colorado electorate is sure to attract national press attention to this race. The latest voter registration figures show 1,132,035 Republicans in the state, 1,107,600 Democrats, and 1,228,128 independents.
Moreover, whereas Barack Obama was first nominated for president in Denver in ’08 and has twice carried Colorado’s electoral votes, his star is now dimming in the Centennial State.
The same USA Today/Suffolk University poll that showed the gubernatorial race in a dead heat showed that by a margin of 55% to 43%, voters disapproved of Obama’s performance as president.
Whether that helps Bob Beauprez become the first Coloradan in 52 years to oust an elected governor will be one of the telling political sagas of 2014.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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